Turkey Just Deployed a Battalion of Troops to Iraq

The fight against ISIS is about to get messy.

The Iraqi government says that a battalion of Turkish soldiers that arrived in northern Iraq in a convoy of tanks and armored personnel carriers last week did so without its permission, and has given Turkey 48 hours to withdraw, Reuters reports

“In case we have not received any positive signs before the deadline we set for the Turkish side, then we maintain our legal right to file a complaint to the [UN] Security Council to stop this serious violation to Iraqi sovereignty,” Saad al-Hadithi, an Iraqi government spokesperson, told Reuters.

Turkey says the soldiers were deployed to provide security for a smaller contingent already training a local militia near the the ISIS stronghold of Mosul. “It is our duty to provide security for our soldiers providing training there,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview on Turkey’s Kanal 24 television.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote in a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that he would not send additional troops until Baghdad’s “sensitivities” were placated, Al Jazeera reports.

The dispute highlights fissures in the international coalition amassing in the region to combat ISIS. Many of the Shi’ite militias battling ISIS in central Iraq enjoy the backing of Russia and Iran, while the autonomous Kurdish (and primarily Sunni) government in the north works closely with the United States and its Western allies, including Turkey. With tensions high following the shootdown of a Russian warplane by Turkish forces in November, the introduction of more troops threatens to add more instability to the volatile region.

A spokesman for the Kurdish government told Reuters that the additional Turkish troops are necessary  “for protection.” However, Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy to the global coalition to counter Islamic State, said on Twitter that Washington did not support missions in Iraq without Baghdad’s blessing. According to Reuters, political analysts are interpreting Turkey’s entry into northern Iraq “as a bid to assert its influence in the face of increased Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria and Iraq.” 

The counterattack to retake Mosul, which has a population of about two million, has been looming on the horizon since it fell to ISIS last June. The battle is expected to be one of the biggest and bloodiest of the war, and will involve a number of armies and militias with disparate agendas. Now, it appears Turkey could be one of them.