Iraq and Turkey reach deal on forces

BEIRUT: Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said on Saturday an agreement had been reached with Turkey over an Iraqi demand that Turkish forces withdraw from a town near Mosul in the north of the country, Iraqi state TV reported. Abadi met his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim in Baghdad. State television did not provide further details about the agreement over the town of Bashiqa, where Turkish forces have been stationed since before a recent offensive against IS in northern Iraq. Looking back at relations between Iraq and Turkey, it’s possible to see them souring for months, before developing into a full-blown war of words between the two neighbours last year.

The question now is whether a new diplomatic initiative can right the ship. Strains erupted in 2015 after Turkey dispatched forces to Bashiqa in northern Iraq, saying they were aimed at training local fighters in battling IS militants there. Baghdad insisted that the Turkish troops had been sent without its permission and demanded their withdrawal. Furthermore, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said that Iraq’s oil, plundered by IS forces, was being transited through Turkey. Moving ahead to October, Al Abadi warned Turkey that it could trigger a regional war by maintaining its military presence in Iraq.

He also rejected a request by Turkey to take part in a US-backed military campaign to drive IS from its key stronghold of Mosul, near Bashiqa. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan soon lashed back at Al Abadi. Turkey had already voiced concerns that the military was using militias to help in recapturing Mosul. Turkish concerns grew after Iraq’s powerful militia, the Popular Mobilization, joined the onslaught, which started in mid-October, to retake Mosul from IS. Turkey was also angered about bases held in northern Iraq by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a radical group which has been locked in conflict with Ankara for decades in what the militia says is a struggle for the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

In a sign of de-escalation, Al Abadi said in November that PKK insurgents will not be allowed to attack Turkish territory from Iraq. Amid growing rapprochement, Erdogan late last month discussed in a phone conversation with Al Abadi cooperation in fighting terrorist groups in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Erdogan hailed “Iraqi forces’ victories” in Mosul, saying that Turkey respects Iraq’s territorial integrity, the Iraqi government said in a statement. — Agencies