Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Iraq's prime minister Tuesday that Turkish troops - more than 1,000 of them already positioned in northern Iraq - could not be excluded from the military force preparing to do battle with Islamic State extremists for control of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Erdogan spoke in Istanbul, telling Sunni Muslim religious leaders that Turkish troops already in Iraq would not withdraw from a base near Mosul. He also said the largely Sunni Turkish army would not take orders from the Shi'ite government in Baghdad.
"Turkey's army has not lost enough of its quality to take orders from you," Erdogan said, referring to demands from Baghdad for the withdrawal of all Turkish troops.
Relations between the two powers grew tense late last year after Turkey deployed troops to a largely Sunni area northeast of Mosul to train locals in the fight against Islamic State extremists. Baghdad has since called the deployment a violation of its sovereignty and called on Turkey to withdraw.
Turkey has repeatedly warned of the potential for sectarian violence in and near Mosul, if the majority Sunni region falls under the control of Shi'ite militia, if and when extremists are driven from Mosul.
For his part, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned earlier this month that Turkey risked provoking a regional war by keeping troops inside Iraq.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that all foreign military forces in Iraq should be endorsed by the Baghdad government and operate under the limited mandate of an anti-Islamic State coalition.
A U.S. statement said "it is imperative for all parties to coordinate closely over the coming days and weeks to ensure unity of effort in defeating Daesh [Islamic State] and to provide for the lasting security of the Iraqi people."
Separately Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim warned that the looming military push to free Mosul should not result in any demographic changes to the largely Sunni region.
Analysts say one of Turkey's principal concerns is the rise of Kurdish or Shi'ite groups in the Mosul area and the likely push to drive Sunni Arabs and ethnic Turkmens from the region.
Source: Voice of America