Turkey halts troop deployment to Iraq but will not withdraw: foreign ministry
Turkey has halted a deployment of troops to northern Iraq but will not obey Iraq's request to withdraw those already there, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, insisting they had been sent with Iraq's knowledge to help fight Islamic State.
The arrival of a heavily armed Turkish contingent at a camp near the frontline close to the city of Mosul has added yet another controversial deployment to a war against Islamic State that has drawn in most of the world's major powers.
Russia, already furious after Turkey shot down one of its jets flying a sortie over Syria last month, said it considered the presence of the Turkish forces in Iraq illegal.
Ankara says its troops are in Iraq to train Iraqi forces. "Training at this camp began with the knowledge of the Iraqi Defence Ministry and police," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a meeting of deputies from his ruling AK Party.
In the last few days, Baghdad has denied that it knew about the mission and said it would go to the United Nations Security Council if the troops were not pulled out by Tuesday.
In a phone conversation with his Iraqi counterpart late on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu emphasized Ankara's respect for Iraq's territorial integrity, spokesman Tanju Bilgic told reporters.
"He (Cavusoglu) said that our activities aimed to contribute to the struggle against Daesh (Islamic State) in Iraq and reiterated that the deployment had stopped," Bilgic said. "There is no withdrawal at the moment, but the deployment has stopped."
Davutoglu said he wanted to visit Baghdad as soon as possible to calm the row, saying the troops were intended to protect the training mission against attack by Islamic State.
"Those who make different interpretations of the Turkish military presence in Mosul are involved in deliberate provocation," he told the deputies.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, IRAN
While attention was focused on the dispute with Baghdad, Davutoglu made clear that the sharp deterioration in ties with Russia remained high on the agenda, with Turkey's cabinet discussing possible measures against Moscow on Monday.
"We are ready for talks and every kind of exchange of ideas with Russia but will never allow anything to be dictated to us," he said. "In the face of Russia's sanctions, we will implement our own sanctions if we regard it necessary."
Russia has imposed a raft of economic sanctions on Turkey since its fighter jet was shot down near the Syrian-Turkish border last month in disputed circumstances. Davutoglu said steps were being to support Turkey's exporters and tourism sector.