Turkey will not withdraw its troops from its Bashiqa military camp in northern Iraq until the end of the Mosul offensive against the Daesh militant group, a senior Turkish official said.
Russia’s state-backed RT news channel reported yesterday an unnamed Turkish official as saying that “delegations from Turkey and Iraq will meet in a couple of months to discuss the future withdrawal plan,” noting that the Iraqi administration knows that the presence of Turkish troops is not permanent.
“Our concern was over any cooperation between the [Iraqi Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces – PMF] and PKK elements in a move targeting Tal Afar, but that is out of the question at the moment,” the official said, adding that Baghdad has pledged that PMF fighters will not get involved in the Mosul and Tel Afar campaigns.
This morning, Defence Minister Fikri Isik largely confirmed RT’s report, and said that Turkey will discuss with Iraq the presence of Turkish troops at Bashiqa after the area is cleared of Daesh militants. He added that the matter will be resolved in a “friendly” manner.
Although Turkey is not planning an immediate withdrawal of its troops from the camp, the prime ministers of both countries stressed in a joint statement that Iraqi sensitivities regarding sovereignty will be respected, Iraqi Alsumaria News reported.
Speaking from Kirikkale, east of the capital Ankara, Isik reaffirmed Turkey’s respect for Iraqi sovereignty. “Turkey respects Iraq’s territorial integrity and unity, and the presence of our troops in Bashiqa is not a choice but a necessity.”
The announcement that Turkey had been reassured that the PMF would not be involved in operations to retake Tal Afar and Mosul are surprising, not least because the PMF are already involved in fighting in Tal Afar.
The Iran-backed PMF, comprised of dozens of Shia jihadist groups, have been fighting near Tal Afar for months, including assaulting the city’s airport late last year. Their operations are still ongoing in the area, so it is unclear what reassurances Ankara had received from Baghdad.
The PMF, under the command and control of the Iraqi government, has been repeatedly accused by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of committing grave human rights abuses and war crimes.