Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan summoned Turkey’s top generals to discuss the advance of Islamist militants in Iraq, after they seized the country’s biggest dam and drove tens of thousands from their homes.
Army leaders including chief of staff General Necdet Ozel and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will attend the meeting, the official Anadolu Agency said.
Davutoglu said earlier that Turkish aid supplies had been dropped in the mountains near Sinjar in northern Iraq, where about 50,000 Yezidis have taken shelter after militants from the Islamic State drove them from their homes during the group’s latest advance. He did not say whether Turkish aircraft carried out the operation.
The military denied local media reports that Turkish planes entered Iraqi airspace to track the movement of Islamic State insurgents, according to a one-sentence statement on its website.
While Turkey’s air force has often entered Iraqi airspace in response to threats posed by ethnic Kurdish rebels, this time it’s the advance of the IS fighters that has heightened concern. Dogan news agency and local reporters in the country’s southeast said planes were seen flying toward Iraq late yesterday.
The militants have been holding hostage 49 diplomats, policemen and civilians, most of them Turkish, since they raided Turkey’s consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul on June 11 at the beginning of a major offensive.
Car bombings today in Kirkuk, occupied by forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, now an ally of Turkey, as the Islamic State advanced toward its front lines, have raised tensions further. The KRG exports oil via a pipeline to Turkey.
“Turkey is trying to gather intelligence against what it sees as a threat to its economic and energy interests in the region,” Oytun Orhan, an analyst at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara, said by phone today in reference to Kurdish oil shipments via Turkey. “Turkey would support its Iraqi Kurdish allies against the Islamic militants, however, the ongoing hostage standoff has seriously tied Turkey’s hands.”
Government, military and intelligence officials met for three hours earlier today to discuss developments in Iraq and the security situation along Turkey’s southern border, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
The al-Qaeda breakaway group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has this week won control of a string of towns and villages in the country’s north, forcing tens of thousands of Christians and members of the Yezidi religious minority to flee their homes. Today it captured the Mosul dam, the country’s biggest, according to Iraqi officials.