BEIRUT -- Turkey has defended its decision to send troops into Iraq, despite loud protests from the Iraqi government. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed the move was a "measure” to fight the Islamic State group operating in Iraq's northern Nineveh province.
“Our existence in Iraq is to ensure the stability of the region because we do not want to be neighbors with Daesh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group],” Turkey's Anadolu Agency quoted Davutoglu as saying. “Therefore, we will support both Iraq and the Kurdish region on all terms.”
Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan, welcomed the arrival of Turkish troops, traveling to Ankara Wednesday for a two-day meeting with Turkish officials. Last week, Turkey sent some 150 troops and 20 army tanks to the outskirts of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, which has been controlled by the group known as ISIS for more than a year. This brings the total number of Turkish troops stationed in Mosul up to 1,200, according to the Daily Sabah.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the troops were sent to Iraq at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Baghdad issued a rebuttal of Erdogan's claims and called the deployment of Turkish forces a “violation of [its] sovereignty.”
“The Iraqi government confirms its firm and categorical rejection of any action of this kind issued by any country that violates our national sovereignty and we will treat any foreign ground combat troops sent by any country as a hostile act and deal with it on that basis,” Abadi said in a statement issued last week.
Turkey is a NATO member and key participant in the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. has made it clear that Turkey’s moves into Iraq are not associated with the coalition’s efforts against the militant group.
"We are aware of the Turkish presence in northern Iraq, which is not associated with Operation Inherent Resolve or Coalition efforts," a U.S. official told Daily Sabah.
Turkey issued a warning to all of its citizens to leave Iraq Wednesday night, except for those in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.
A protest against Turkish intervention in Iraq has been scheduled in Baghdad for Saturday.