Iraq is more concerned by the deployment of 650 Turkish troops to the Shaqlawa region in northern Iraq than by the 150 Turkish soldiers in Mosul's Bashiqa region, details of meetings between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and Turkish officials on Dec. 9 have revealed.
Barzani met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and opposition party leaders, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Ankara from Dec. 9 to 11.
Sunday's Zaman has learned from sources in Turkey and the KRG that Barzani is not fully convinced of the need for the 800 Turkish troops in Mosul and Shaqlawa in northern Iraq that recently sparked a crisis between Ankara and Baghdad.
According to sources, Turkey increased the number of its troops in Mosul from 80 to 150 on Dec. 3 and deployed 650 more troops to a deserted airport near the town of Harir in the Shaqlawa region that has strategic importance as it is along the route to the Kandil Mountains where the headquarters of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) are located.
Sources told Sunday's Zaman that Barzani expressed his and Bagdad's concerns to the Turkish authorities about the troops in Shaqlawa during his meetings in Ankara.
Iraq said in early December hundreds of Turkish troops had arrived in its territory without its knowledge or approval, calling it a violation of its sovereignty.
Turkey sought to ease the concerns of the central Iraqi government after it threatened to take action at the UN unless the Turkish troops were withdrawn immediately. On Dec. 6 the Iraqi government issued a 48-hour ultimatum and demanded an immediate pullout of Turkish forces, saying the deployment took place without the knowledge and consent of Baghdad.
Along with 150 troops, Turkey also deployed about 25 tanks to a camp in the Bashiqa region near Mosul on Dec. 3, calling it a routine rotation to train Iraqis to retake Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which captured Iraq's second-largest city in 2014.
Before his visit to Ankara, Barzani also downplayed the nature of Turkey's dispatch of a contingent of forces backed by armored vehicles, tanks and artillery to northern Iraq. The Kurdish leader said the issue was between the central government in Baghdad and Ankara, but did not show any reaction or unwelcoming sign against the presence of Turkish forces.
During a press conference along with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Arbil on Dec. 8, Barzani told reporters Ankara and Baghdad have an existing agreement over troop deployment to train armed forces there as part of the mission to recapture Mosul from ISIL.
Rivalries between Baghdad and Ankara over Turkish troops entering Iraq should be resolved at the negotiating table because "there is a misunderstanding between both countries, and we will work to ease the situation," Barzani was quoted as saying by the Arbil-based Rudaw.
‘Some Turkish ISIL members identify themselves as MİT staff'
During the meetings between Turkish officials and Barzani in Ankara, Barzani spoke on the 150 ISIL militants of Turkish origin who had been captured by Kurdish peshmerga forces during clashes with ISIL. According to sources, Barzani said some ISIL members captured by the peshmerga had identified themselves as members of MİT and he requested that MİT head Fidan clarify the issue.
Barzani also sought assistance from Ankara to remove 500 Turkish nationals in Mosul who are in leading positions in ISIL.
The sources also told Sunday's Zaman that Turkey demanded Barzani's help to capture some of PKK leaders, while Barzani in return demanded to be part of the operation in Mosul to remove ISIL. He also gave assurances that they would protect the rights of Turkmens in Kirkuk in a referendum and requested that Turkey not interfere in this internal matter.
In order to come to an understanding on the issues, Barzani also demanded financial assistance which Turkey agreed to; however, the amount and source of the funds were not mentioned, the sources said.
Prime Minister Davutoğlu during his meeting with Barzani in Ankara expressed commitment to the Kurdish cause against ISIL and vowed to lend the KRG any available support in the fight against the radical group.
"Our presence in Iraq is to ensure the stability of the region. To avoid being a neighbor with Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIL], Arbil needs to be stronger. We will continue to support the fight against terrorism in Iraq," Davutoğlu said.
Photo Credit: basbakanlik.gov.tr