ISTANBUL – Turkey's prime minister on Wednesday defended the country's deployment of additional forces to Iraq last week, saying it was an "act of solidarity" with Iraq's fight against the Islamic State group.
Turkey has stationed troops at a base outside Mosul since last year as part of a training mission coordinated with the Iraqi government in Baghdad. The arrival of additional Turkish forces last week, however, sparked uproar in the Iraqi capital.
Iraqi officials gave Turkey a 48-hour deadline to withdraw additional troops and Turkey declared it had halted the new deployment. Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim told reporters in New York on Tuesday that Baghdad and Ankara were working to solve the dispute bilaterally and "I think it's going very well."
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a group of foreign reporters in Istanbul on Wednesday that the additional troops were sent to protect the trainers amid an increased threat from the Islamic State group.
"This is not an act of aggression but an act of solidarity," Davutoglu said. "Our intention is to protect these trainers. "
Asked about Baghdad's request to withdraw the troops, Davutoglu said: "When we saw the reaction we stopped the transfer . but we cannot leave these trainers without protection."
On Wednesday, Turkey issued a warning advising its citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to or within Iraq and urging vigilance. It cited increased threats to Turkish interests in the country. The warning, however, didn't comprise regions within the Kurdish Regional Government.
Earlier, the Turkish military said it has carried out aerial raids on suspected Kurdish rebel sites in a new cross-border offensive in northern Iraq. The raids "destroyed" targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in four areas of northern Iraq, including the Qandil mountains on the Iraq-Iran border where the PKK's leadership is based, the military said.
Turkish jets have frequently bombed PKK sites in northern Iraq. Wednesday's strikes were the first since tensions erupted with Iraq over the Turkish deployment.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.