Protesters outside Turkish embassy in Baghdad demand troops withdraw

Thousands of Iraqis gathered outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday to protest Turkey's continued military presence north of Mosul, despite demands by the Iraqi government for Ankara's soldiers to leave.

Protesters carried Iraqi flags and demanded that the Turks withdraw from Bashiqa base, in line with repeated requests by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who launched a massive operation this week to retake the city from Islamic State.

"Out out, you occupier" was one of the slogans being chanted, according to witnesses.

Muqtada al-Sadr, a hardline Shiite cleric, is one of those calling for the demonstrations against the troops' presence.

The Turkish military base inside Iraq has caused tensions between Baghdad and Ankara, just as Iraq has started a campaign to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city, from Islamic State forces. The countries have summoned each other's ambassadors, without result.

Turkey is not part of the operation, at Iraq's insistence, despite repeated demands by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to participate.

Erdogan says the troops - including about 150 soldiers deployed last year to train Sunni forces - will remain, insisting they are part of his country's self-defence strategy.

Al-Abadi, speaking to journalists in Baghdad, reiterated his government's position, saying Iraq had rebuffed requests from other neighbouring states including Jordan and Iran to take part in operations against Islamic State "for reasons that have to do with Iraq."

"We will not allow the Turkish air force to bomb Daesh [Islamic State] in Iraq," al-Abadi said, in apparent response to claims by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that his air force had taken part in US-led coalition airstrikes in Mosul.

On Monday, a Turkish diplomatic delegation visited Baghdad, but an Iraqi Foreign Ministry source said that the meeting saw no new ideas presented that met their demands.

"We want the Turkish military forces to leave Iraq and we informed the Turkish government delegation that recently visited Baghdad of that," al-Abadi said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has since said an Iraqi delegation will go to Turkey this week for further discussions, insisting that both sides want to resolve the matter though dialogue, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Mosul has been under the control of the extremist group since 2014. Now, a coalition of Iraqi forces, including Kurdish Peshmerga troops, are moving swiftly to capture the city, backed by a US-led coalition and airstrikes.

Mosul serves as one of the de facto twin capitals of the Islamic State group, the other being al-Raqqa in northern Syria. The extremist group has been losing territory and is on the back foot in both countries, though it still controls vast swathes of land.

Last update: Wed, 19/10/2016 - 00:07
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