Iraq asks Saudi Arabia to ‘end silence on Turkey incursion’

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Prime Minister's press office on February 25, 2017, shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Baghdad, (c) AFP

Iraqi officials have asked Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, to break his country’s silence on the presence of Turkish soldiers in Iraq.

According to a statement issued by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, Ibrahim al-Ja’afari, the country’s Foreign Minister told Jubeir that Saudi Arabia “must break its silence on the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported from Baghdad.

“Ja’afari stressed the need for Riyadh’s efforts to encourage the Turks into leaving the Iraqi land, stating that despite Arab and international consensus on opposition to Turkish troops, they still remain in the Iraqi territory,” the report added.

Turkey has up to 2,000 troops stationed in several areas in northern Iraq since 2015, which has caused tensions and a short-lived diplomatic crisis between Baghdad and Ankara. Iraq has called the presence of Turkish soldiers a violation of national sovereignty and international law whilst Turkey has claimed the troops were invited by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq’s north with consent from Baghdad. Thousands of Iraqis protested the Turkish government in Baghdad in October last year and called for an end to its military presence in the country.

Analysts have said Turkish troops’ existence in the region is a counter-weight to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) presence in Shingal (Sinjar) near Mosul, and also balances Shi’ite domination in the area.

Turkey says it has trained hundreds of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) at its Bashiqa camp northeast of Mosul and is in the region to defend the Turkmen population and fight the Islamic State group.

Turkish demands to be allowed to join the operation to capture Mosul from the IS group were rejected by Baghdad and the US-led anti-IS coalition. However commentators have said Ankara managed to block the participation of Yazidi groups trained and equipped by the PKK.

Adel al-Jubeir’s trip to Iraq is the first official visit by a minister of the Saudi Arabian government since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and signals towards co-operation between the two Arab states and Iran.

“The whole region is heading towards compromise and Saudi Arabia sees Iraq as an important player to have on its side,” an Iraqi government official said on Saturday, adding, “Iraq’s neutrality could make it a ground for Iranian-Saudi rapprochement.”