Iraqis rally against deployment of Turkish troops

Baghdad, Dec 13 (IANS) Hundreds of people rallied in Baghdad to protest the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq and calling Ankara’s move a “violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

The demonstrators gathered on Saturday at al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, chanting slogans condemning the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq without the knowledge or permission of the Iraqi government, Xinhua reported.

Dozens of demonstrators were wearing military uniforms of paramilitary Shia units, known as Hashd Shaabi. Many were holding Iraqi flags and raising banners reading “Our sovereignty is our dignity.”

Nuri al-Maliki, former vice-president, and Hadi al-Ameri, head of Badr Organisation, led the televised demonstration.

The two mounted a platform with several Shia politicians, while many of their bodyguards crowded around them.

Ameri read a statement saying “the groups of Islamic resistance announce our rejection to the violation of the national sovereignty and all plots that aim at dividing Iraq, and we consider any military presence on Iraqi territory a foreign aggression that must be confronted.”

Ameri’s Badr Organisation, previously known as Badr Brigade which maintains its longtime ties with the neighbouring Iran, emerged as a powerful militia during the years that followed the US-led invasion to Iraq in 2003. It turned into a political organisation a few years later.

Badr Brigade was the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shia party headed by Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim.

Last week, Ameri and Maliki called for demonstrations against Turkey under “Defence of Sovereignty.”

On Friday, Iraq’s most revered Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged the government not to “tolerate” with any party that violates the sovereignty of the country.

Later on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi instructed the foreign ministry to lodge an official complaint to the UN Security Council over the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq.

The demonstrations came two days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said withdrawing Turkish troops from Iraq is out of the question and Turkish soldiers in Iraq are as part of a training mission.

The deployment of troops dates back to 2002 and additional troops were deployed in 2014 in response to a request from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, Erdogan said.

“Turkish troops in Mosul are not there as combatants, they are trainers. Their numbers may vary depending on the size of Kurdish Peshmerga troops. It is out of the question, for now, to pull them out,” he said.

The crisis between the two countries sparked last Friday when reports said a Turkish training battalion equipped with armoured vehicles was deployed near the city of Mosul to train Iraqi paramilitary groups in fighting the IS group.

Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, has been under IS control since June 2014.

Baghdad insisted that Turkish troops had no authorisation from the Iraqi government and thus demanded their withdrawal.

Ankara called the troops only a routine rotation of the trainers.

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