Iraq Escalates Row Over Turkish Troops With Trade, UN Steps

  • Turkey rejects violating Iraq's soverignity, territorial unity
  • Troop deployment targets Islamic State militants, it says

Iraq increased pressure on Turkey to withdraw hundreds of soldiers from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, escalating the dispute to the United Nations Security Council and threatening to cut trade ties with the government in Ankara.

Iraq’s government has ordered the closure of its commercial office in Istanbul, according to Hashem Hatem, director of foreign economic relations at the Ministry of Trade. Authorities may take “tougher steps,” including cutting trade links with Turkey, he said. Total bilateral trade amounts to about $11 billion a year, he said by phone.

Separately, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it has asked permanent members of the UN Security Council and “friendly nations” to seek support for a resolution to condemn Turkey’s deployment, which it said violated Iraq’s sovereignty. Turkey has said that while it won’t send more troops to train Kurdish and Arab militias fighting Islamic State, it has no plans to withdraw the soldiers already stationed in northern Iraq.

Economic Pressure

The Iraqi escalation comes as Turkey faces economic sanctions from Russia after Turkish warplanes downed a Russian fighter jet last month. Turkey denies violating Iraq’s sovereignty, saying the troops sent last week to Bashiqa camp, northeast of Mosul, would only assist forces fighting Islamic State.

Turkey’s deployment added to a wider arms buildup in the region as the military intervention against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq intensifies.

Russia and NATO have deployed more warplanes and warships since the downing of the Russian jet. In Iraq, the U.S.-backed government’s struggles against Islamic State leave the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries vulnerable to break up along ethnic and sectarian lines.

The closure of the Istanbul office is a “message to Turkey,” Hatem, the trade ministry official, said. “If Turkey maintains its position, what would be the benefit of trade with Iraq’s sovereignty breached?”

Iraq has also asked the Arab League to hold an extraordinary meeting of Arab foreign ministers to consider “the escalation of the Turkish violation and adopt an Arab attitude against it," Ahmed Jamal, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said in a statement.

A major Sunni power in the Middle East, Turkey has enjoyed closer ties with Iraqi Kurds led by Massoud Barzani than the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad, which is backed by Iran.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu and head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, were scheduled to travel to Baghdad on Thursday for talks with Iraqi officials.

The Turkish troop deployment is a “show of support for Iraq’s Kurds and friendly Sunni forces near Mosul” rather than an attempt to build a force capable of launching a major military operation, said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, an Ankara-based think tank. “Resolving the issue will depend on an improvement in strained ties between Barzani and the central government in Baghdad.”

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