Turkey has announced its decision to continue to remove its troops from the Bashiqa camp near Mosul after nearly 10 days of tension with the Iraqi government and upon insistent appeals from Washington, which included a phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“Turkey, in recognition of the Iraqi concerns and in accordance with the requirements of the fight against Daesh, is continuing to move military forces from Nineveh province, which were the source of the miscommunication,” a Foreign Ministry statement read late Dec. 19. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS).
Turkey’s announcement of a withdrawal came only a day after Obama’s call to Erdoğan and two days after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu denied reports that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden requested him to pull back troops from Mosul.
Baghdad on Dec. 20 welcomed Turkey’s move to pull the troops but said it would keep up efforts at the United Nations to achieve a full withdrawal.
“What has been reported in the media is a step in the right direction,” Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was quoted as saying in a statement from his office. “We will carry on our process with the Security Council until a full withdrawal is achieved,” he added.
Tension between Ankara and Baghdad escalated in the last 10 days, after Turkey reinforced its military troops in Bashiqa by hundreds of commandos and a small mechanized unit without seeking the consent of Iraqi officials. Turkey’s efforts to calm Iraq’s anger over the issue so far have been futile, although it withdrew a substantial number of troops from the base last week. No details have been given on the number of troops still in the Bashiqa base, while there has been no statement on when the remaining troops will be withdrawn.
“Turkey reiterates its support for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and acknowledges the miscommunication with the government of Iraq over the recent deployments of Turkish protection forces to support training activities for Iraqi forces in their campaign against Daesh in northern Iraq. Turkey will continue to coordinate with the government of Iraq over its military contributions to the fight against Daesh. Turkey reaffirms its commitment to deepen cooperation with the Global Coalition to counter Daesh,” read the statement.
Obama’s call was influential
After Biden’s phone calls to Davutoğlu failed to solve the problem, Obama called Erdoğan late Dec. 18 while the latter was chairing Turkey’s top security board meeting. Obama’s call came as the U.N. Security Council was set to convene to discuss the Turkish troops’ presence in Mosul upon a call by the Iraqi government, which slammed the Turkish government for a violation of its sovereign rights.
“The president [Obama] urged President Erdoğan to take additional steps to deescalate tensions with Iraq, including by continuing to withdraw Turkish military forces, and reinforced the need for Turkey to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq,” read the White House statement on the content of the conversation.
“To this end, the two leaders agreed to work together on diplomatic efforts between the United States, Turkey, and Iraq to reduce tensions and to coordinate military efforts against IS. The president stressed the value of Turkish contributions to the counter-IS campaign, and the two leaders also discussed intensifying cooperation on Syria, including joint efforts to strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition and step up pressure on IS, as well as continued efforts to create conditions for a negotiated solution to the conflict” it added.
Turkey, Iraq and the US to coordinate
A statement issued by the Turkish Presidency did not use the word “withdrawal” but rather a “re-organization” of the Turkish troops in Mosul, citing Obama’s request for Turkey to take additional steps to reduce the tension between Ankara and Baghdad.
The statement said Erdoğan reiterated Turkey’s respect for Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and that the objective of the presence of the Turkish troops in the region was to fight against IS, a move also important for the security of Iraq as well.
“The two leaders have agreed that Turkey, the U.S. and Iraq should work together as part of diplomatic consultations to reduce tension and within the coordination of the joint military effort against Daesh (IS)” it said.
The two presidents also exchanged their views about ongoing talks to launch a political transition process in Syria, expected to start on Jan. 1, 2016, after three rounds of talks in Vienna and New York.
‘A matter of national honor for Iraq’
According to daily Hürriyet, Obama stressed the issue has turned into a matter of national honor for Iraqis and he wanted Erdoğan to take steps to relieve Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The U.S. president requested the withdrawal of the troops and then to return to Bashiqa after getting the necessary approval from the Iraqi government.
“We are there in the framework of fighting Daesh. Why would we be there without reason? The request came from them and we have trained 2,400 Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni Arabs” Erdoğan told Obama. “Okay, let’s pull back from there. But when we do this, Daesh will come there. There is no ‘withdraw your troops and contribute more to the fight against IS.’”
Obama acknowledged Turkey’s contribution to the anti-IS fight as an important partner of the international coalition but asked Erdoğan to take steps to relieve al-Abadi against internal pressure and to end the crisis.