Turkey’s troop deployment in Iraq: new challenge to regional security

(VOVworld) – Many Turkish soldiers illegally entered Iraq on December 4 to train Kurdish militias fighting IS. This has harmed relations between Iraq and Turkey and created a new security challenge in the Middle East.

Turkey’s troop deployment in Iraq: new challenge to regional security - ảnh 1

International media reported that 130-150 Turkish soldiers backed by armored vehicles approached the Iraqi city of Mosul without Baghdad’s approval. Turkey’s Sabah newspaper said Turkey has approximately 1,200 ground troops, 500 engineers, and many tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery near Mosul. Since 2014 Turkey has operated a training camp for Kurdish fighters near Mosul and two more in Soran and Qalacholan in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

Tensions in bilateral ties

Turkish officials said the troop deployment on December 4 was routine. Approximately 2,000 volunteers from Mosul have been trained in Turkish training camps in Iraq to fight IS. This training program was carried out at the request of the government of Mosul in coordination with Iraq’s Defense Ministry. But representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Saadi Ahmed Pira said: “There are no agreements with Turkey about military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. The only accord was concluded with the international coalition of 62 countries, which includes Turkey, but it does not provide for the existence of military bases, only the training of Kurdish forces fighting terrorism and air support”.

The Iraqi government has rejected Turkey’s explanation. On December 6, Iraq said it will appeal to the UN if Turkey does not withdraw its troops from northern Iraq within 48 hours. A number of members of Parliament asked the Iraqi parliament to convene an emergency meeting to approve tougher military actions against Turkey. President of the Iraqi Parliament’s National Security and Defense Committee Hakim al-Zamili urged the government to conduct airstrikes on locations occupied by Turkish soldiers to retaliate for what he calls a serious violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. Faced with Iraq’s angry reaction Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey will halt its troop deployment in Iraq but did not mention any troop withdrawal. He also dismissed the allegation that Turkey is preparing for a military operation in Iraq. On December 8 the UN Security Council convened a closed-door meeting to discuss the incident.

Security risks for the Middle East

As a Sunni majority country Turkey has closer relations with Kurdish forces in Iraq, which are led by politician Massoud Barzani than the Shiite-controlled central government in Baghdad. Analysts describe Turkey’s troop deployment as a new Turkish diplomatic strategy. Ankara’s recent tough attitude demonstrates its ambition to control the situation in the Middle East. Therefore Turkey needs to make the most of terrorist groups or any opportunity to topple the Syrian government. Analysts say Ankara has joined Western forces to attack Libya and has deployed troops to Iraq and Syria. Head of the Tigris Communal Research Center in Turkey Mehmet Kaya said Turkey sending more troops to Bashiqa near Mosul is an attempt to widen differences between the autonomous Kurdistan region and the central government in Iraq and increase Turkey’s position in the region. Aaron Stein, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said this is part of an attempt by Turkey to annex the Kurdish-controlled region in Iraq.  

Troop deployment to Iraq is a risky step considering that tensions over Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet have not yet eased. It has further complicated the situation in the Middle East.