ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey can't be excluded from a possible operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul, Turkey's president said Tuesday, telling Iraq's leader to "know his place."
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks were likely to add to tensions between the two neighbors, which are key U.S. partners in the fight against the Islamic State group.
In a speech delivered in Istanbul, Erdogan also said Turkish troops wouldn't withdraw from a base near Mosul, saying the Turkish army wouldn't take orders from Baghdad. Turkey is training anti-IS fighters to help retake Mosul from the extremist group.
Turkey-Iraq relations became strained after Ankara sent troops late last year to the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, to train anti-IS fighters there — a move Baghdad has since labeled a "blatant violation" of its sovereignty. Iraq has demanded a Turkish withdrawal, but Ankara has repeatedly ignored the call.
Turkish officials say hundreds of their soldiers are based at Bashiqa, training more than 3,000 Turkmen, Kurdish or Sunni Arab fighters from Mosul. Turkey says about 700 IS militants have been killed in retaliatory attacks against the extremists carried out from the base.
Turkish warnings about possible sectarian clashes in Mosul if the majority Sunni region were placed under Shiite militia control also have drawn Baghdad's ire. Last week, both countries summoned each other's ambassadors while Iraq requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council over the presence of unauthorized Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
Speaking to Muslim religious leaders from the Balkans and Central Asia, Erdogan said objections from Iraq wouldn't stop Turkey from participating in any operation to free Mosul and proceeded to make vitriolic remarks against Iraq's prime minister.
"You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me," Erdogan said, addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us. You should know that we will go our own way."
Erdogan also said Turkey wouldn't withdraw its troops from the base in Bashiqa, adding that it was al-Abadi himself who had asked Ankara to train fighters there back in 2014.
"Turkey's army hasn't lost enough of its quality to take orders from you," Erdogan said in response to Iraqi calls for the troop's withdrawal. "We would do whatever is necessary as we have done until today."
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington that the situation in Bashiqa was a matter for the Iraqi and Turkish governments to resolve.
"What we support is continued dialogue between them that can lead to a speedy resolution of the matter. We call on both governments to focus on their common enemy, our common enemy, which is Daesh," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
"Over the coming days and weeks, we believe it's imperative for all the parties to closely coordinate next steps to ensure unity of effort in that counter-Daesh fight.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, again warned that any operation to free Mosul shouldn't lead to any demographic change. Turkish is worried that once Mosul is liberated from IS, Kurds or Shiite groups may take Mosul over and push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmens.
"We have explained to all of our friends that the operation planned for Mosul should be limited to removing Daesh," Yildirim said.
"If you, after removing Daesh, attempt to change Mosul's demographic structure, you will light the fire of a very big civil war, of a sectarian war. This is our warning," Yildirim said.