Tensions between Iraq and Turkey have surged as the two neighbours gear up to launch the long-awaited battle to oust the Islamic State group from the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Turkey and Iraq summoned each other’s ambassadors on Wednesday to protest statements by one country’s prime minister and the other’s parliament.
Iraq’s foreign ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad to condemn “provocative” comments by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim about the planned operation to dislodge IS militants from the city of Mosul.
Yildrim said the operation could spark sectarian tensions if the Sunni Arab-majority region around Mosul were to be placed under Shia militia control after the offensive.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inflamed the situation, sayingthat after Mosul is recaptured from IS; “only Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Sunni Kurds should remain there”.
He added that Mosul, which was seized by IS in 2014, belongs to its majority-Sunni residents.
The comments prompted the government-backed Shia militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) to issue a statement, condemning Erdogan’s “racist proposal to change Mosul’s demographics”.
“Mosul is a multi-faith city… nobody has the right – especially leaders of foreign countries – to impose a discriminatory policy on any part of Iraq,” the statement posted on Twitter read.
In Ankara, meanwhile, Turkey summoned the Iraqi envoy to protest an Iraqi parliament resolution,denouncing Turkish troop presence in the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, where Turkish forces are training anti-IS fighters.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Turkey that keeping troops in northern Iraq could lead to a “regional war”.
“We have asked more than once the Turkish side not to intervene in Iraqi matters and I fear that the Turkish adventure could turn into a regional war,” Abadi said in comments broadcast on state TV.
Earlier this week, Turkey’s parliament approved a one-year extension to an existing mandate to deploy Turkish army personnel in Syria and Iraq.
The extension of the mandate permits Turkish military action against IS and other groups deemed by Ankara to be terrorists such as the Syrian Kurdish political group the Popular Protection Units [YPG] which has close relations with the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK].
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