Iraq denies Turkish participation in operation to retake city of Mosul from ISIS

Iraqi soldiers in armoured vehicles preparing to move out to the village of Bartila, which was liberated from ISIS, during the drive to retake Mosul, on Oct 23, 2016.
Iraqi soldiers in armoured vehicles preparing to move out to the village of Bartila, which was liberated from ISIS, during the drive to retake Mosul, on Oct 23, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's joint operations command on Monday (Oct 24) denied Turkey was participating in military operations to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

"The spokesman of the Joint Operations Command denies Turkish participation of any kind in operations for the liberation of Nineveh," a statement said, referring to the Iraqi province of which Mosul is the capital.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters on Sunday (Oct 23) that Turkish troops stationed outside Mosul had provided support "with artillery, tanks and howitzers" following a request by Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Thousands of peshmerga forces are currently involved in a massive push in the Bashiqa area north-east of Mosul, where Turkey has a military base.

The forces of the autonomous Kurdish region, whose leader has close ties with Turkey, have complained recently that the US-led coalition's air support was insufficient.

Turkey had repeatedly stated it wanted a part in the massive operation to retake Mosul, the ISIS group's last major stronghold in Iraq.

Turkish presence in northern Iraq is not new, but reinforcements sent to the Bashiqa base last year sparked the ire of parts of Iraq public opinion and of dominant Shi'ite parties.

Agence France-Presse reporters on the front line near Bashiqa saw artillery fire emanating from the Turkish base and targeting ISIS positions on several occasions since the offensive started a week ago.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is under domestic pressure not to be seen as tolerating the presence on his soil of troops from a country many in Iraq see as having abetted the rise of the terrorist group.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited Baghdad on Saturday (Oct 22) and Erbil, the Kurdish capital, on Sunday.

He had suggested before his visit to Iraq that Turkey should be given a role in the Mosul offensive, Iraq's biggest military operation in years.

But speaking after a meeting with Mr Carter, Mr Abadi swiftly rejected the idea.

"I know that the Turks want to participate... We tell them 'thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul'," he said.