News & Politics

Tensions Flaring Between Iraq and Turkey: Turks Not Withdrawing Troops, Baghdad Threatening Use of Force

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 29, 2014: Tank in Vatan Avenue during 29 October Republic Day celebration of Turkey. Source: Evren Kalinbacak -- Shutterstock.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has accused Turkey of failing to live up to an agreement about the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Iraq’s northern region. The country’s foreign minister added that, if necessary, Iraq is willing to respond with force to the continued provocation.

Tensions between the two Muslim nations starting rising when Turkey sent 150 troops to the Bashiqa military base near Mosul. According to the Turks, the troops are meant to protect the base where the Turkish military is training an Iraqi militia to fight against ISIS. The area around the base is a no-man’s land: there are almost no Iraqi troops in the province of Nineveh. Since Turkey considers the province its own backyard, it’s doing whatever it considers necessary to protect its borders, power and influence in the region.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Al-Abadi told his his Turkish counterpart that a Turkish delegation had promised to withdraw the troops from Iraq. That has not happened, however. Al-Abadi explains:

But the Turkish government has not respected the agreement and we request that the Turkish government announce immediately that it will withdraw from Iraqi territory.

Earlier, Turkey admitted there was a “miscommunication” about the deployment of Turkish troops — saying the deployment wasn’t communicated to Baghdad — but president Erdoğan added that he is not willing to withdraw all his troops.

Nineveh

In response to the threats from Iraq, Turkish prime minister Davutoğlu shot back, saying that Iraq has no right to tell Turkey what to do since it doesn’t control up to a third of its own territory. He added:

If Baghdad wants to use force, they should use it against Daesh.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari says that his country wants to employ diplomatic means to force the Turks to withdraw, but agrees with his prime minister that all options are on the table:

If we are forced to fight and defend our sovereignty and riches, we will be forced to fight.

The Turks say that the deployment of troops is necessary to protect the military base where they’re training Iraqi fighters, and to protect the country itself against possible attacks from ISIS. According to Iraq, however, that is nonsense. Al-Abadi says that the base is located 90 kilometers from the Turkish border, meaning that ISIS’ presence around the base poses no immediate threat to Turkey’s national security. As a result, Iraq sees the deployment as a naked power grab.

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t know how to deal with this new problem in the Middle East. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden want to keep their relatively good relationship with Turkey, but they can’t afford to alienate the Iraqi government too much either. Besides, Turkey’s military adventure is clearly a breach of Iraq’s national sovereignty.

It goes to show that the Middle East will continue to be one of the most volatile regions in the world where Machiavellian opportunism is par for the course. If Turkey doesn’t withdraw its troops soon, the U.S. will have to choose: to either worsen the relationship with Ankara by forcing it to withdraw its troops or by doing the same with Baghdad by allowing Turkey fee rein in what its considers to be its own backyard.