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US supports Turkey’s fight in Mosul

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who visited Baghdad on Saturday and Erbil, the Kurdish capital, on Sunday, had suggested before his visit to Iraq that Turkey "should be given a role in the Mosul offensive".

Published: October 25, 2016, 12:57 pm

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    Turkey has already stationed troops in both Syria and Iraq without the permission of either government, but with the backing of the US.

    The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, after a meeting with Carter, once again swiftly rejected the idea. Abadi warned last week of a military confrontation between Turkey and Iraq. If Turkish forces intervene in Mosul, he said, they will not “be in a picnic.”

    “We are ready for them,” Abadi said. “This is not a threat or a warning, this is about Iraqi dignity.”

    The rift between Turkey and Iraq is another example of the breakdown in sovereignty of not just Syria but Iraq as well. The Islamic State has erased the borders between the countries. But according to Reuters “Washington in the past has deferred that matter to Baghdad”.

    Carter, hoping to side-step American involvement in the dispute, saying it was a delicate issue, declined later to explicitly say whether he thought Turkey should be allowed to participate in the operations in Iraq.

    “Of course we’ll talk about that. And yes, of course there are sensitivities there. We conduct ourselves, and the coalition does, respecting Iraqi sovereignty. That’s an important principle of ours,” Carter said, but did not comment on what he meant by non-existant Iraqi “sovereignty”.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that his troops would retaking Mosul as a NATO member.

    Asked about Turkish air strikes that pounded a group of Kurdish fighters allied to pro-US rebels in northern Syria, Carter told Reuters he was “uncertain” about what precisely transpired.

    “I can’t clarify that now,” he said. Later a defense official denied on Thursday that the groups struck by Turkish jets were US-backed.

    The presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa camp near Mosul, as well Ankara’s participation in the offensive in the largely Sunni Muslim city, has had American support. A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Turkey had “legitimate security concerns” in Iraq.

    Turkey has about 600 to 800 troops at Bashiqa, equipped with tanks and artillery, and has sometimes fired on Islamic State positions from there. Turkish troops did so Sunday too, officials said.

    The Turkish military deployment, even just to train local forces, has been bitterly opposed by the Iraqi government, and Abadi has long demanded that the troops leave, but the US is hoping to find a way to keep Turkey in Iraq.

    “We have been working behind the scenes to get the Iraqis and the Turks to come to an understanding about how we’re going to move forward on Mosul,” the official told Reuters.

    Carter steered clear of commenting on the tensions ahead of his talks in Turkey. “In the case of Turkey, it’s a NATO ally,” Carter said in explaining Turkey’s role in Mosul.

    But the United States has failed to broker a compromise in which the Turks would not directly participate in the Mosul offensive but instead stick to training, medical and humanitarian support as a cover to operate in the country.

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