October 12, 2016 - 4:15 AM
BAGHDAD - Tensions between Turkey and Iraq continued to escalate Wednesday as Iraq's prime minister rejected Turkish claims that their forces must be included in an operation to retake the militant-held city of Mosul.
"We will liberate our land through the determination of our men and not by video calls," Haider al-Abadi said late Tuesday night on his Twitter account, mocking the Turkish president's nationally broadcast video call to a TV journalist amid a failed coup attempt in July.
Earlier Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces cannot be excluded from the long-awaited operation to retake Mosul, telling Iraq's al-Abadi to "know his place."
Turkey-Iraq relations became strained after Ankara sent troops late last year to the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, to train anti-IS fighters there — a move Baghdad has since labeled a "blatant violation" of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal, but Ankara has repeatedly ignored the call.
"You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me," Erdogan said Tuesday, addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a speech delivered in Istanbul. "Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us. You should know that we will go our own way."
Iraq's powerful Shiite militias — one of the many groups expected to take part in the fight to retake Mosul — have also called for an immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops.
"We did not and will not allow the Turkish forces to violate Iraq's sovereignty," said Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Brigade, one of the most prominent Shiite militia groups. "We affirm, the Turks must withdraw their forces and if they insist on staying, they have no one to blame but themselves. The arrogance and vanity that we hear today in Erdogan's language, he will not only regret it but he will actually see it."
The operation to retake Mosul is expected to be the most complex yet for Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition air-power. Iraq's military is still rebuilding after nearly a third of its forces disintegrated when Mosul first fell to IS more than two years ago. Since then the extremists have been pushed from more than half of the territory they once held in Iraq, according to figures released by al-Abadi's office.
In Beirut, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah said the operation to retake Mosul risks pushing Islamic State militants into eastern Syria, calling that an America ploy of which the Iraqis should be wary.
Speaking Wednesday to a crowd during a religious ceremony south of Beirut, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose group is fighting in Syria alongside government forces, said "this American deception will put your victory in Mosul to waste."
He called on Iraqi leaders, including Shiite militias, to kill and imprison IS militants, denying them an escape route to Syria. Their presence in Syria, he said, will be a continuous threat to Iraq.
Associated Press writers Ahmed Sami in Baghdad, Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016