Turkey said on Monday it had a duty to protect its soldiers around the Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul in Iraq and that they were there simply on a training mission, after Baghdad ordered the immediate withdrawal of its latest deployment.
Turkey sent hundreds of forces to a camp in the Bashiqa region of northern Iraq on Thursday. It described it as a routine rotation in an existing training program to help Iraqis retake Mosul from Islamic State, and said the troops were there to ensure the safety of the Turkish military trainers.
But the Iraqi government said the latest deployment had been made without informing or coordinating with Baghdad, and should be withdrawn. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday that Iraq might turn to the U.N. Security Council if the troops were not withdrawn within 48 hours, describing their deployment as a violation of national sovereignty.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, however, said Abadi had repeatedly requested more active Turkish support against Islamic State, and said he believed other countries had played a role in Iraq's reaction. He did not elaborate.
"It is our duty to provide security for our soldiers providing training there," Cavusoglu said in an interview on Turkey's Kanal 24 television.
"Everybody is present in Iraq ... The goal of all of them is clear. Train-and-equip advisory support is being provided. Our presence there is not a secret," he added.
Turkey, embroiled in a row with Moscow after it shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border almost two weeks ago, is eager to show it is playing its part in the fight against Islamic State. It has come under pressure from the United States to play a more active role, particularly in Syria.
Moscow has accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family of benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from Islamic State-held territory in Syria and Iraq, a charge Ankara vehemently denies.
Islamic State militants overran Iraq's second-largest city Mosul, home to more than 1 million people, in June 2014. An expected counter-offensive by Iraqi forces has been repeatedly postponed because they are involved in fighting elsewhere.
Tanks and armored vehicles
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday the new deployment was a troop rotation to support a camp that Turkish forces had previously set up at the Mosul governor's request and in coordination with the Iraqi Defense Ministry.
Iraqi Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani would visit Turkey this week, Cavusoglu said, adding that Iraq's defense minister was also expected to visit the country soon in a previously-arranged trip.
Kurdistan Regional Government spokesman Safeen Dizayee denied a Turkish media report that a deal had been reached between Turkey and Iraq for Turkey to have a permanent military base in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.
He backed up Ankara's version of events, saying Thursday's deployment aimed "to expand the capacity" of the training base near Bashiqa and included armored personnel carriers and tanks. "The increase of personnel requires some protection," he said.
A senior Kurdish military official based on the Bashiqa front line, north of Mosul, said last week that additional Turkish trainers had arrived at a camp in the area on Thursday, escorted by a Turkish protection force.
The camp is used by a force called Hashid Watani (national mobilization), which is made up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul.
It was formed by former Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, who had close relations with Turkey. There was already a small number of Turkish trainers there before this latest deployment.