Rift Deepens After War Of Words Between Turkish, Iraqi Leaders

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi meets with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara in this file photo. Photo: Reuters

A diplomatic dispute between Turkey and Iraq has reached a new level that threatens to upset relations after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Iraqi prime minister that he should “know his limits” following his criticism over the presence of Turkish troops near Mosul.

As Mosul operation hangs in the air and set to take place later this month, the recent outbreak of crisis between Turkey and Iraq adds a new layer of confusion and friction before the risky military endeavor against Islamic State (ISIS).

Speaking to Muslim leaders from Balkans and Central Asia in Istanbul on Tuesday, Erdogan went on tirades against the Iraqi prime minister who vowed to eject Turkish troops from the Iraqi territory by whatever means available.

“The Iraqi prime minister is insulting me, first know your limits,” Erdogan said, addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me,” Erdogan was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

“Yes, we sure are not your equal because we liberate our land with men not via Skype,” Abadi wrote in Twitter, in reference to Erdogan’s reaching out people via FaceTime on a TV channel during July 15 abortive coup attempt.

“You should know that we will follow our own path,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Erdogan also said Turkey deployed troops at Bashiqa camp near Mosul at the request of Baghdad administration.

He refused Baghad’s call for the withdrawal of Turkish forces, saying that “the Turkish military has not lost so much standing as to take orders from you,” in addressing the Iraqi leader.

Turkey has nearly 2,000 troops deployed at Bashiqa camp to train Turkmen, Sunni Arab and Kurdish peshmerga forces against ISIL. The first placement of forces came in August 2014, two months after ISIL’s takeover of Mosul, second largest Iraqi city.

When Turkey sent additional forces, armored vehicles and tanks to the camp last year, it triggered a diplomatic spat with Iraq which pressed for removal of troops, saying that it is a blatant violation of its sovereignty. With relocation of forces father north, the row subsided for a while after Turkey launched diplomatic efforts to palliate fears of Baghdad.

The recent rift erupted after Iraqi Parliament condemned Turkey for a parliamentary move to extend one more year for foreign military missions, in Iraq and Syria, and called for swift pullout of troops from the country. As they locked in a worsening diplomatic row, both summoned each other’s envoy to convey their resentment and quests.

Regarding the latest spat, the US declined to take a side but said any military presence in Iraq must get approval of the central government in Baghdad. However, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said “the Turkish forces that are deployed in Iraq are not there as part of the international coalition.”

“The situation in Bashiqa is a matter for the governments of Iraq and Turkey to resolve. What we support is continued dialogue between them that can lead to a speedy resolution of the matter,” Kirby said at a daily press briefing on Tuesday.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Wednesday Turkey does not move on orders from others. Rejecting Iraqi calls, Kurtulmus said Turkish forces at Bashiqa camp will remain there until Mosul is liberated.

Same day Baghdad criticized Erdogan for taking Iraqi criticism wrongly as an affront to his personality, and said Erdogan’s style of handling the crisis only exacerbates it.

The Turkish president warned about consequences of Mosul operation and warned against a sectarian bloodbath that could follow the allied operation.

“We are determined to deflate the balloon of sectarian conflict aimed at drowning the region in blood and fire,” Reuters quoted Erdogan as saying.

Ankara also warned a new possible migrant wave and said if the operation is not handled smoothly, as high as 1,5 million refugees would drive toward the Turkish border.