Turkey may launch ground operation in Iraq if threatened: Foreign minister

Turkish soldiers firing an upgraded M60 tank near the Syrian village of Beraan, north of Aleppo, on Oct 24, 2016. Turkey said they would be willing to send troops into Iraq in the same way they are fighting in Syria.
Turkish soldiers firing an upgraded M60 tank near the Syrian village of Beraan, north of Aleppo, on Oct 24, 2016. Turkey said they would be willing to send troops into Iraq in the same way they are fighting in Syria. PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday (Oct 25) that Ankara could launch a ground operation in Iraq to remove any threats to Turkey that may arise.

"If there is a threat posed to Turkey, we are ready to use all our resources including a ground operation... to eliminate that threat," Mr Cavusoglu said in an interview with Kanal 24 broadcaster. "It is our most natural right."

Mr Cavusoglu referred to Turkey's ambitious offensive in Syria as an example of how Turkey took the threat to its security seriously.

Since August 24, Ankara has supported opposition rebels to clear the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its border and halt the westward advance of the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG.

Turkey views the YPG (People's Protection Units) as a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is waging an insurgency in Turkey's southeast.

The PKK is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union but Washington believes the YPG is the most effective force against IS in Syria.

The PKK has bases in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq which the Turkish military regularly hits with its warplanes.

Mr Cavusoglu said any threat against Turkey in neighbouring regions of Iraq - including the northern district of Sinjar - could draw a response.

"If the threat to us increases (there), we can deal with them using our rights under international law and our strength including a ground operation," he added.

The minister said Monday the PKK wanted to make Sinjar a "second Qandil", but such actions would not be allowed and that Turkey would "intervene more actively" to stop it happening.

Ankara also said this week it had already hit ISIS positions with its artillery at the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq. But Baghdad has denied Turkey's participation in military operations to retake the northern city of Mosul.

Mr Cavusoglu previously said that as a result of the artillery fire from the camp, 17 "terrorists" had been killed. He added that four F-16 fighter jets were also on standby to take part in any international coalition air strikes in Iraq.

An offensive to push ISIS out of Mosul, Iraq's second biggest city, has entered its second week with Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters continuing their advance on the city.

Meanwhile, Turkey's ramped up rhetoric about further military action continued with Mr Cavusoglu warning that if the YPG militia in Manbij, northern Syria, did not leave the city, "we know how to remove them with our own resources".