Turkish foreign minister hits back at 'weak' Iraq PM
Ankara (AFP) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu denounced Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as "weak" on Wednesday, further escalating tensions after Baghdad warned Ankara about provoking a confrontation through deploying tanks near Iraq.
Abadi's remarks were made on Tuesday after Turkey sent a 30-vehicle convoy including artillery to the southeastern district of Silopi, with the Iraqi leader warning that any Turkish "invasion" would prompt a fierce response.
The two countries traded barbs last month over Ankara's military presence in Iraq's north and its insistence on playing a role in the offensive to retake second city Mosul from Islamic State (IS) extremists.
"If you have the strength, why did you surrender Mosul to terror organisations?
"If you are so strong, why has the PKK occupied your lands for years?" Cavusoglu jeered, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party which is waging an insurgency inside Turkey and has bases in northern Iraq.
"You cannot even fight against a terror organisation, you are weak," he said in televised comments.
- Turkey at risk -
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Wednesday suggested Ankara had sent in the convoy as a precautionary measure because of the "fires raging (there)... and this neighbouring fire can spread to us".
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take on more responsibility in the region even as it was facing threats from the ongoing volatility along its borders.
"Some people give us lessons, they say 'do not get so involved in Iraq'... well, what are we going to do?" he asked in a speech to the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation in Istanbul.
"It is us that has a 350-kilometre (220-mile) border with Iraq."
The future was far from clear in Mosul, Kirkuk, Tal Afar and Sinjar, he said. "What happens next is unknown," he added, saying Turkey was preparing to deal with any situation.
During the Mosul offensive, Kirkuk has been subject to diversionary attacks from IS while Tal Afar is a town near Mosul where Shiite militias advanced at the weekend. Erdogan previously warned the militias not to attack Turkmen residents in Tal Afar.
Turkey also fears the district of Sinjar could become another base for the PKK which Erdogan has said he will not allow.
Defence Minister Fikri Isik also said Turkey was ready for any developments in the region, and was continuing important work to prepare for this.
- 'Playing tough' -
Ankara claims its artillery hit IS positions in Iraq during the Mosul operation but Baghdad denies any Turkish involvement and has called for Turkish troops training fighters near Mosul to be withdrawn.
Iraqi forces fought their way into the northern city that has been held by IS since June 2014 in the third week of the operation.
As the Turkish convoy moved in, Abadi said Iraq was "ready" for a confrontation with Ankara even though he insisted he did not want to go to war with Turkey.
In response, Cavusoglu said it was "not right to make flippant remarks", accusing Iraq of trying to "play tough" with empty rhetoric.
Cavusoglu's remarks were in stark contrast to those made during a visit to Doha on Tuesday in which he admitted Turkish troops' presence in northern Iraq had created "unnecessary tension".
Erdogan says Turkey has nearly 700 soldiers at the camp training fighters who will assist Kurdish peshmerga forces retake Mosul.
Relations between the two neighbours soured on October 1 after the Turkish parliament renewed a mandate for its troops to spend another year in Iraq and Syria.