Already tense relations between Turkey and the Iraqi central government have now become critical following a decision made by Baghdad. Following the Turkish government’s request for parliamentary approval of cross-border operations by the Turkish military, Baghdad has decided to not to allow the Turkish army to enter Northern Iraq and to maintain its presence there.
In a meeting yesterday [Oct. 2], the Iraqi cabinet decided to annul all agreements that enabled the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. The decision will directly affect Turkey, which has been maintaining bases in Northern Iraq since the 1990s. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced the move: “The government has decided to refuse the presence of foreign troops and bases on Iraqi soil. No foreign soldiers will be allowed to enter Iraqi territory. The government has advised the parliament to annul existing agreements and not to extend them.”
A senior Iraqi official told AFP news agency that the decision aims to end Turkey’s military presence in the Dohuk region. This official said the agreement was signed by then-president Saddam Hussein in 1995, and allowed 35,000 Turkish troops to participate in Operation Steel. The prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq, Necirvan Barzani, noted that the agreement that enables Turkey to maintain bases in the Kurdish region has been operational since 1997. Following Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to decline the invitation to attend the AKP congress because of this tight schedule, it was Northern Iraqi leader [KRG President] Massoud Barzani, whose relations with Baghdad are tense, and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is facing a death sentence, who attended the AKP congress.
Although not officially acknowledged, Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) units, primarily armor and artillery units, have been deployed to Northern Iraq for the past 16 years. From there, they monitor PKK activities and control a border strip of 30 by 80 kilometers from Zaho to Cukurca.
Turkish forces, which initially deployed to the Bamerni airfield in Northern Iraq 30 km from the Turkish border, gradually expanded from town of Sersing to Kanimasi with an armor force of 50 to 100 tanks and controlled the region from dominating hill features. Their main function is to prevent PKK militants from communicating with inland Iraq.
Turkish Forces in Northern Iraq
- About 1,000 soldiers and 20 Leopard tanks are stationed between Batufa, which is close to Turkish border, and Kanimasi.
- About 10 tanks and 1,000 soldiers at Bamerni. Some of the tanks defend the airfield, while others are deployed on hilltops, from which the TSK tries to control Duhok, Sersing, Gare and Metina.
- The airfield also has a helipad that is regularly used for logistics and troop rotations.
- Three tanks are deployed in the town center of Amediya in Zap region.
- About 10 tanks and more than 500 troops are deployed around Sheladize and Deraluk.
- Barzani’s peshmergas — armed Kurdish militias — have set up checkpoints to monitor the expanding TSK. Peshmergas regularly report on Turkish activities to their headquarters at Erbil.