Turkish troops withdrawn from camp near Iraq's Mosul

Turkey Police outside a protest in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose, AFP)
Turkey Police outside a protest in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose, AFP)

Arbil - Turkey withdrew troops on Monday from a north Iraq camp, a lawmaker and witnesses said, after a deployment which Baghdad said went ahead without its permission and that sparked a diplomatic row.

It was not immediately clear how many soldiers were removed from the camp, where Ankara sent troops and tanks on a deployment last week it said was routine and necessary to protect Turkish trainers working with Iraqi forces battling ISIS.

Baghdad has sharply criticised the deployment, terming it an "incursion" that violated the country's sovereignty, repeatedly demanding the forces be withdrawn and complaining to the United Nations Security Council.

"The Turkish army withdrew from Camp Zilkan at dawn today, and according to our information, only the trainers remain to train Hashad al-Watani forces," MP Salem al-Shabaki said, referring to anti-ISIS forces and the site where they were being trained.

"Witnesses confirmed that they saw the Turkish army withdrawing from Camp Zilkan, toward the Turkish border," Shabaki said.

Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency quoted military sources as saying that "some of the Turkish troops stationed in Bashiqa have transited to the north as part of a new arrangement".

But did not specify if they were moving farther north into Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, the government of which has strong relations with Ankara, or leaving altogether.

Heading toward border

Anatolia said the troops were carried in a convoy of 10-12 military vehicles but did not give further details on numbers.

Witnesses in Dohuk province in Iraqi Kurdistan reported seeing Turkish military equipment being moved on transport trucks towards the border.

"I saw these vehicles, which were carrying heavy weapons with Turkish flags on them," one witness said on condition of anonymity, but it was unclear if it was a partial or complete withdrawal.

"About six o'clock this morning, I saw transport trucks carrying tanks and armoured vehicles with Turkish flags on them going toward the Ibrahim Khalil crossing" leading from Iraq to Turkey, another witness said.

A senior Turkish official said last week that between 150 and 300 soldiers and 20 tanks were deployed to protect Turkish military trainers at a camp near Mosul, the main ISIS hub in Iraq.

But the deployment outraged the federal Iraqi government, which repeatedly demanded that Ankara withdraw the forces.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last week sent two of the most powerful men in Turkish foreign policy, foreign ministry under-secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to Baghdad in a bid to settle the tensions.

Davutoglu said subsequently an agreement had been reached on a "reorganisation" of the Turkish troops. But it was never made clear what form this would take.

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