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Turkey has up to 2,000 troops near Mosul despite Baghdad objections: Report

Turkey caused a diplomatic incident last year by moving in 150 soldiers and appears to have reneged on pledges to deescalate presence
A Turkish solider patrols the streets in Istanbul (AFP)

Turkish troops are covertly battling the Islamic State group near Mosul and have declined repeated requests from Baghdad to leave Iraq, a report published on Thursday has claimed.

According to an exclusive report in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, some 1,000 to 2,000 Turkish troops are currently stationed less than 15 kilometres north of Iraq’s second city of Mosul, which has been in IS hands since June 2014.

Turkish forces have been there for months but the report indicates a serious escalation and says that the troops have been busy shelling IS positions. 

“If the US was doing more [against IS in Mosul] the Turks wouldn’t have had to come in,” General Bahram Yasin, a Kurdish Peshmerga leader, told the newspaper.

The Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry’s chief of staff, Jabar Yawar, said that his government estimates that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 Turkish forces in Bashiqa some 100 kilometres from Erbil, the capital of autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq.

Residents also say they have repeatedly spotted Turkish military tanks in the area.

“The Turks have gone there in agreement with the Baghdad government. We have no coordination, no relation and have made no requests for their deployment to that area,” said Yawar.

However, Baghdad and Erbil have both traded barbs over who is responsible for the Turkish presence in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government both claim the other is responsible for the Turkish presence.

The Turks are believed to have moved into northern Iraq back in December when some 150 soldiers, flanked by tanks and armoured personnel vehicles, reportedly went in to protect dozens of military trainers who Ankara says have been working with local forces since 2014.

Turkey said the escalation was done with the knowledge of US-led anti-IS coalition partners but Baghdad responded furiously, saying it had not been informed and declared the incursion “a hostile act”.

In mid-December Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he would pull out the forces after Washington stepped in to try and deescalate tensions.

“Taking into account the sensitivities on the Iraqi side ... Turkey will continue the process it has already begun to withdraw its troops stationed in Mosul province,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

But Turkey did not withdraw fully, prompting Baghdad to threaten a possible military intervention to drive the forces out. However, this failed to happen and subsequent statements from the Iraqi government suggested that the dispute was "on its way to being solved”.

"Turkey sees Mosul and northern Iraq as a sphere of influence, a buffer zone, an area where it needs to have a military presence," Sajad Jiyad, a Baghdad-based political analyst who advises the government, told Reuters last month.

"They feel they need to be in control of that border area between Iraq, Turkey and Syria, or at least know what's going on."

While Turkey is at odds with Kurdish groups in Syria and Turkey, it has long had a friendly stance toward the Kurdish authorities in Erbil with whom it has close energy and security ties. Ankara has had some kind of military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan since the 1990s which is believed to have grown over the decades.