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Iraqi PM says Turkey not respecting agreement to withdraw troops

By Reuters - Dec 31,2015 - Last updated at Dec 31,2015

BAGHDAD/ANKARA — Iraq's prime minister accused Turkey on Wednesday of failing to respect an agreement to withdraw its troops from the country's north and its foreign minister said if forced, Iraq could resort to military action to defend its sovereignty.

The diplomatic dispute flared after Turkey deployed a force protection unit of around 150 troops earlier this month, citing heightened security risks near Bashiqa military base where its troops were training an Iraqi militia to fight Daesh insurgents in nearby Mosul.

Iraqi security forces have had only a limited presence in Nineveh province, where the camp is located, since collapsing in June 2014 in the face of a lightning advance by Daesh militants.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi told his Turkish counterpart in a call on Wednesday that a Turkish delegation had promised to withdraw its troops, according to a statement from his media office.

"But the Turkish government has not respected the agreement and we request that the Turkish government announce immediately that it will withdraw from Iraqi territory,” he said.

Ankara has acknowledged there had been a "miscommunication" with Baghdad over the deployment. It later withdrew some troops to another base inside the nearby autonomous Kurdistan region and said it would continue to pull out of Nineveh province, where Bashiqa is located.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said a total withdrawal was out of the question, and Abadi repeated to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Wednesday that Baghdad had not approved the deployment.

Abadi said there was no reason for Turkey to expose its trainers to danger by sending them "deep inside Iraqi borders" and said Daesh posed no danger to Turkey from inside Iraqi territory. Bashiqa is about 90km from the Turkish border.

Davutoglu's office said in a statement that he had called Abadi to emphasise that their two countries would "continue to work together and in full coordination" against Daesh.

Davutoglu also congratulated Abadi after Iraqi forces retook the centre of the city of Ramadi this week, a victory that could help vindicate the Iraqi leader's strategy for rebuilding the military after stunning defeats.

 

Military action

 

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari said earlier in the day that his government was committed to exhausting peaceful diplomatic avenues to avoid a crisis with Turkey, its northern neighbour, but insisted that all options remained open.

"If we are forced to fight and defend our sovereignty and riches, we will be forced to fight," he told reporters in Baghdad.

US Vice President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Davutoglu earlier this month, welcomed the Turkish troops' withdrawal and urged Ankara to continue trying to cooperate with Baghdad.

Biden will visit Turkey on January 23 and will meet Erdogan and Davutoglu, sources from the Turkish prime minister's office said on Wednesday.

 

After the diplomatic row began, the Bashiqa base came under fire from Daesh when militants fired rockets in an attack on Kurdish peshmerga forces in the area. The Turkish military said its soldiers returned fire and four had been lightly wounded in the incident. 

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