ISTANBUL – Tensions between Turkey and Iraq showed no sign of subsiding on Monday with Turkish leaders saying the country was engaged in the offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State groups while Iraq denied the claim.
Iraq has objected to the presence of some 500 Turkish troops who are training Sunni Arab and Kurdish forces at a base near Mosul, saying they are there without permission from Baghdad. Turkey has refused to withdraw them, and insists it will play a role in the Mosul offensive.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a joint news conference with his visiting French counterpart that Turkey is involved in the Mosul operation, "in a multi-faceted way," including the participation of four Turkish F-16 fighter jets in the U.S.-led coalition.
The minister said Turkish troops in the contentious Bashiqa camp are contributing to the campaign by training Sunni Arab and Kurdish forces as well as firing artillery against Islamic State militants. Seventeen IS militants have been killed by Turkish troops since the beginning of the Mosul offensive, according to Cavusoglu.
Cavusoglu was echoing the remarks of Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who told journalists Sunday that Kurdish peshmerga requested Turkish troops' support in Bashiqa and, "we are supporting them with artillery, tanks and howitzers."
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied Turkey's claim that its troops were taking part in the operation as "baseless and untrue" and reiterated his opposition to the presence of the 500 Turkish troops in Bashiqa.
"We reject any interference in Iraqi internal affairs and violating its sovereignty," al-Abadi said at a Baghdad press conference Monday.
The Baghdad government has said Turkish troops are on Iraqi soil without permission and has repeatedly requested their withdrawal. Turkey insists that the troops entered last year with an invitation to train anti-IS forces, and that Turkey wants a bigger role in the Mosul operation to protect itself against terror and prevent sectarian clashes in Mosul.
"We hope that neighboring Turkey ... will not threaten Iraq amid these dangerous and sensitive stages as we are looking for good relations with Turkey and all neighboring countries," al-Abadi added.
Iran, a close ally of the Baghdad government, has criticized Turkey for its possible involvement in the Mosul operation and said Turkey must get permission to do so.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indirectly referred to Turkey and said on state TV, "We consider intervention of foreign countries (in Iraq and Syria) under the pretext of fighting terrorism and without coordination with the host country very dangerous, whether it is armored forces, air forces or ground forces."
Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.