Thousands of Iraqis across the country protested against the deployment of Turkey’s troops to a base near the northern city of Mosul, held by Islamic State militants. Protesters chanted anti-Turkish slogans and burned and trampled on Turkish flags.
At least 4000 people joined in with the rally at Tahrir Square in Bagdad. They called on Ankara to immediately withdraw its forces from Iraq calling the actions of Turkish authorities “a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty” and “occupation.”
“We consider any military presence on Iraqi land as foreign aggression which we should stand against using all possible means,” Hadi al-Amiri, a Shiite lawmaker, who also leads the armed Badr Organisation, said during the rally in Baghdad, as quoted by Reuters.
Demonstrators also trampled on the Turkish flag and hit a caricature of the Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with slippers as a demonstration of disrespect, Reuters reported.
Several thousands of Iraqis also gathered in the country’s southern city of Basra. The demonstrators also reportedly burned the Turkish flag during the rally. Some Shiite militia members also joined the protests in the city, carrying banners reading “Death to Turkey. Death to Erdogan” and threatening violence against Turkish soldiers unless Turkey’s forces are withdrawn.
“We are on high alert now awaiting orders from our commanders to set fire to the ground beneath the feet of Turkish soldiers,” Amjad Salim, a local commander of the Bard Organization in Basra told Reuters.
“If Turkey thinks Iraq is busy with fighting Daesh [Islamic State] and it can seize the opportunity to deploy troops then it should think twice before making such a mistake,” said Abu Muntathar al-Moussawi, a local commander of another militia group called Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
In the Iraq’s south-eastern city of Nasiriyah demonstrators called on the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi to take a “firm stance” against Turkey’s “aggression,” Press TV reports.
During a protest in the city of al-Diwaniyah in central Iraq, hundreds of people called on the government to expel the Turkish ambassador and break off relations with Ankara.
Earlier on Saturday, al-Abadi once again condemned the deployment of Turkish troops to northern Iraq and stressed that Baghdad regards it not as an anti-terrorist action but as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Tensions between the two countries have increased dramatically since Turkey deployed about 150 soldiers backed by artillery and around 25 tanks to a base near the ISIS-controlled northern Iraqi city of Mosul on December 4.
Turkey has consistently claimed the troops were deployed in order to train local Kurdish Peshmerga forces adding that the move complied with previous agreements between Ankara and Baghdad.
Iraqi authorities regard the move a flagrant breach of the country’s sovereignty and repeatedly call on Ankara to withdraw its forces. Baghdad issued an ultimatum demanding that Turkish troops leave its territory but Turkey refused to comply with it.
Iraqi government also appealed to the UN Security Council about Turkish forces’ presence seeking assistance in resolving the crisis.
Erdogan said that Turkish forces withdrawal from Iraq is “out of question” and denounced the Iraqi appeal to the UNSC as “not honest.”
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