Involving Shi’ite militias in an operation to drive Islamic State out of the Iraqi city of Mosul will not bring peace, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Friday, adding that Turkish-trained forces should be involved.
As expectations of an assault to retake Mosul grow, tensions between Iraq and Turkey have escalated over the presence of Turkish troops on Iraqi territory, mainly at the Bashiqa camp, training Sunni Muslim and Kurdish Peshmerga units which Turkey wants to take part in the battle for Mosul.
However, the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad is keen that its forces be in the forefront of the offensive on Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control.
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“The forces we have trained at the Bashiqa camp are Mosul’s own people. The participation of these forces is important to the operation’s success,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference with his Spanish counterpart in Ankara.
“Involving Shi’ite militias in the operation will not bring peace to Mosul. On the contrary it will increase problems,” he said, adding Turkey was ready to support the offensive.
Turkey’s parliament voted last week to extend the deployment of an estimated 2,000 troops across northern Iraq by a year to combat “terrorist organisations” – a likely reference to Kurdish militants as well as Islamic State.
Iraq condemned the vote, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Turkey risked triggering a regional war. His government has requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the issue.
The assault to retake Mosul, which has been in the hands of Islamic State since 2014, is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
In an analysis published on Thursday, Human Rights Watch also questioned whether Shi’ite militias should be involved in the assault because of past abuses in previous operations against Sunni militant strongholds.
“Those prohibited from participating should include elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a group of armed forces allied with the government,” the rights group said. The Popular Mobilization Forces are made up of mainly Shi’ite fighters.
“The last thing the authorities should allow is for abusive forces to carry out revenge attacks in an atmosphere of impunity.”