Ankara : Turkish air force jets joined in the air operation backing Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga to retake Iraq’s second city of Mosul from jihadists, said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
“Our air forces took part in the coalition forces’ air operations in Mosul,” Yildirim told his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group in Ankara. The long-awaited offensive began on Monday with air and ground support from a US-led coalition. Yildirim said Turkey was “closely-watching” what was happening but did not give details on the nature of the Turkish air support. Mosul was captured by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in in June 2014.
But ahead of the offensive, Turkey and Iraq were entangled in a war of words over Turkey’s presence in northern Iraq.
Yildirim repeated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments from Monday that Turkey would be involved in the operation and will be “at the table”.
While insisting it cannot be left out of the operation, Turkey has often spoken of its fears over the potential involvement of Shiite militias and anti-Ankara Kurdish militia. Yildirim told his MPs that Turkey continuously cautioned the United States and the European Union about the region’s sensitivities.
“We frequently warned about the ethnic sensitivities of the region and indicated the sectarian sensitivities,” Yildirim said.
Earlier this month, Erdogan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi traded barbs over Turkey’s presence in Bashiqa in northern Iraq, where according to Erdogan nearly 700 Turkish soldiers are based.
Turkey denies Baghdad’s claims that it is an “occupying force”, insisting that it is providing training for fighters whom the Turkish government says will assist Peshmerga forces retake Mosul.
‘Iraqis fleeing IS face revenge attacks’
Paramilitary groups and government forces in Iraq have tortured, arbitrarily detained and executed thousands of civilians escaping areas controlled by the Islamic State group, Amnesty International warned. It said the abuses, often revenge attacks directed at Sunnis suspected of being complicit with IS, must not be repeated as Iraqi forces advance on the jihadists’ stronghold in Mosul. “After escaping the horrors of war and tyranny of IS, Sunni Arabs in Iraq are facing brutal revenge attacks at the hands of militias and government forces, and are being punished for crimes committed by the group,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East research director.