Kurdish MPs defend Turkish army presence in N. Iraq

– Iraqi parliamentarians earlier this week described Turkish troops deployed in Iraq’s Nineveh province as ‘occupiers’
– Kurdish and Turkmen members of northern Iraq’s Kurdish parliament have described the Iraqi parliament’s characterization of Turkish troops deployed in northern Iraq as “occupiers” as “politically motivated”, reported Anadolu Agency.In a Tuesday session, Iraq’s parliament described Turkish troops deployed in Camp Bashiqa — located in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province — as “occupiers”.

The assertion drew an immediate response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which slammed what it described as the Iraqi parliament’s “mischaracterization” of the Turkish military presence in northern Iraq.

“We strongly condemn the Iraqi parliament’s unacceptable assertions, including base accusations leveled against the Turkish president,” the ministry declared in a Tuesday statement.

The following day, the ministry summoned Iraq’s ambassador to Ankara to voice its displeasure, prompting Iraq’s Foreign Ministry to retaliate by summoning the Turkish envoy to Baghdad.

– ‘Politically motivated’

Members of northern Iraq’s Kurdish parliament, for their part, say the recent claims by their Iraqi counterparts — that Turkish troops are “occupying” Bashiqa — are “politically motivated”.

“Iraqi politicians always refer to the country’s ‘sovereignty and independence’ when it suits their interests,” Renas Jano, an MP for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), told Anadolu Agency.

“Now they’re using the mantra of ‘national sovereignty’ to criticize Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq,” Jano added.

“When PKK militants are operating in Iraqi cities, nobody talks about ‘sovereignty’ and ‘independence’,” Jano said.

“Instead of expelling groups like the PKK, the same political circles provide them with support and financial aid,” he added.

He went on to juxtapose the positions adopted by certain Iraqi political quarters vis-à-vis the PKK terrorist group’s presence in the country on one hand and the presence of Turkish troops tasked with fighting Daesh on the other.

According to Jano, Iraqi political groups that oppose a Turkish military presence in Iraq must understand that “as long as the PKK presence continues [in Iraq], Turkey’s presence in the region will be essential for security”.

He added that the Iraqi parliament’s recent assertions regarding the Turkish presence at Camp Bashiqa were “not made in the interests of the people of Mosul but rather in the interests of certain Iraqi political groups”.

In mid-2014, the Daesh terrorist group captured Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — along with vast swathes of territory in the country’s northern and western regions.

In recent months, the Iraqi army has managed to retake much territory. Nevertheless, Daesh remains in control of several parts of the country, including Mosul, which Iraqi officials have vowed to recapture by year’s end.

– ‘Historical roots’

Arafat Karam, another MP for the KDP (which is led by Masoud Barzani, president of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government), questioned why Iraqi parliamentarians had singled out Turkey when a number of other players were currently active in Iraq.

“Why are calls to end ‘foreign military presence’ [in Iraq] being applied only to Turkey?” he asked. “There are many other countries — besides Turkey — that maintain a presence in the country.”

Karam went on to stress that Turkish forces now deployed at Camp Bashiqa were there within the context of the international fight against Daesh.

Aydi Maruf, an MP for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, for his part, said the ethnic and religious makeup of Daesh-held Mosul — located only some 12 kilometers northeast of Bashiqa — meant the city shared a close historical and cultural affinity with Turkey.

“Why don’t Turkish troops go to [the Iraqi city of] Najaf? Because they don’t have any interests there,” he asserted. “Turkey has longstanding historical and cultural roots in Mosul.”

Maruf also expressed his opposition to the notion of the Hashd al-Shaabi — an umbrella group of Shia militias — taking part in the upcoming campaign to liberate Mosul.

“We are aware that the Shia militias are supported by a country pursuing a political agenda,” he said in a veiled reference to Shia Iran.

“Turkmen in Tal Afar [another city in Nineveh province] are now divided along Sunni-Shia lines because of groups established on a sectarian basis,” Maruf said.

“We don’t want to see this happen again; that’s why we don’t want Shia militias to enter Mosul,” he added.

Asserting that Ankara had no sectarian agenda in Mosul, Maruf said: “For two years, Turkey has provided support to all elements of Iraq — Arabs, Turkmen, Ezidis, Christians and others — that have suffered under Daesh’s oppression.”

– Turkish mandate

In 2007, Turkey’s parliament gave a mandate to the country’s armed forces to take military action against terrorist groups in Iraq. In 2014, with the emergence of Daesh, that mandate was expanded to include Syria.

Last week, Turkey’s parliament renewed the mandate in a move that drew criticism from certain Iraqi political quarters.

In December of last year, Turkey sent some 150 troops and about two dozen combat tanks to Camp Bashiqa.

The deployment — which was criticized at the time by Baghdad — was meant to provide protection to Turkish military personnel tasked with training Iraqi volunteers to fight Daesh.