Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq Base - WSJ



Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq Base - WSJ
Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq Base - WSJ
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Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq
Iraqi officials express dissatisfaction with move, want Ankara to remove all of its troops
Protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Saturday demand the withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq.
By DION NISSENBAUM in Istanbul and
Updated Dec. 14, 2015 7:16 p.m. ET
Turkey pulled a small military convoy out of a training base in northern Iraq
that has become a new flash point as regional powers exert their influence, but
refused to buckle to increasing pressure from Baghdad and Moscow to remove
all its troops.
About 10 Turkish military vehicles left the camp early Monday, Turkish and
Iraqi officials said, and they are moving to another base in northern Iraq. While
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the move was meant to address
Baghdad’s concerns, he added that Ankara had no plans to leave the disputed
It did little to assuage Iraqi officials who see Ankara’s presence as an illegal
incursion. “Redeployment is not withdrawal,” said Iskander Witwit, a member
of Iraq’s parliament who sits on the defense and security committee.
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Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq Base - WSJ
But U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Mr. Davutoglu to praise the decision as a
positive move to help defuse tensions.
“The vice president encouraged the Turkish government to continue its
dialogue with Baghdad on additional measures to improve relations between
Turkey and Iraq,” the White House said of the call.
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Turkey prompted a furor two weeks ago when it sent in hundreds of troops and a
few dozen tanks to the Bashika base just north of Mosul, which has been
controlled by Islamic State since it seized the major city 18 months ago.
While Turkish officials initially cast the move as a routine troop rotation that
was approved by Iraqi leaders, Baghdad officials demanded that Turkey
immediately withdraw.
The small base has become just the latest point of conflict for world leaders
trying to direct the outcome of the expanding international fight against Islamic
State, efforts complicated by conflicting priorities, strategies and regional
political rivalries.
Moscow—which has seen its own spike in tension with Ankara since a Turkish
jet shot down a Russian bomber three weeks ago— has stepped in to support
Baghdad in its fight against the Turkish troop moves. Russia and Iraq are calling
on the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Turkish troop buildup.
Turkey has about 1,000 troops at the disputed base. Turkish leaders said they
needed to send in the armored tanks to provide protection for Turkish troops
based close to Islamic State strongholds to the south. American officials have
urged Turkey to coordinate its military moves with Baghdad, but stopped short
of calling for their withdrawal from Iraq.
“Turkish soldiers will continue to be there for training,” Mr. Davutoglu said
in an interview with A Haber, a privately owned Turkish news channel. “The
adjustment today is for the safety of our troops.”
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Turkish Military Convoy Leaves Iraq Base - WSJ
Turkey has aligned itself with the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State and
leaders in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region. Russia is using its bombers to help
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by targeting a variety of Syrian rebels backed
by the U.S., Turkey and their allies.
Tensions between Ankara and Moscow have simmered. Turkish officials
demanded a meeting with Russia ambassador last week after a Russian sailor
appeared to brandish a shoulder-fired missile launcher while sailing through
Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait.
On Sunday, a Russian warship in the Aegean Sea opened fire on a Turkish fishing
boat that Moscow said was getting too close, although crew on the fishing boat
later told Turkish reporters that they heard no shots and never got close to the
Russian ship.
Last week, Turkey’s spy chief, Hakan Fidan, and a top Turkish diplomat traveled
to Baghdad to try to ease tensions. After the meeting, Turkey said the two
countries had agreed on a plan to redeploy Turkish troops from the disputed
base, setting the stage for Monday’s move.
Turkish troops have been training Kurdish and Sunni forces in northern Iraq for
months. Mr. Davutoglu visited some of the training centers this year, and the
issue didn’t cause a stir with Baghdad’s Shiite-led government until Turkey sent
in the beefed-up force to northern Iraq, where the Kurdish government is locked
in a long-standing feud with leaders in the Iraqi capital.
Kurdish officials said Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s semiautonomous
Kurdish region, played a key role in easing tensions by meeting with Turkish
leaders last week in Ankara and urging them to work out a solution with
The Turkish prime minister said Moscow was only stepping in to condemn
Turkey over its troops in Iraq because of their own feud with Ankara.
“This act of Russia is not because of their solidarity with the Iraqi government,
but because of their reaction to Turkey,” he said last week.
—Ben Kesling in Baghdad, Emre Peker in Istanbul and Safa Majeed in Baghdad
contributed to this article.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at [email protected]
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