Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declined an offer from Turkey to take part in the battle to dislodge Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from Mosul following a meeting with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Baghdad.
During a visit to Turkey on Friday, Carter had signalled conditional support for a possible Turkish role in the campaign, and said there was an agreement in principle that could allow for eventual Turkish participation.
Details of that Turkish role, however, were still subject to negotiation, Carter and other officials acknowledged at the time and Iraq would need to agree.
By the tone of Abadi’s comments on Saturday, that appeared unlikely anytime soon.
“I know the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle,” Abadi told reporters travelling with Carter.
“If help is needed, we will ask for it from Turkey or from other regional countries.”
Turkey has been locked in a row with Iraq’s central government over the presence of Turkish troops at the Bashiqa camp, near Mosul, where it has trained thousands of Iraqi soldiers for the battle.
Baghdad has called for the withdrawal of hundreds of Turkish soldiers from Bashiqa
Earlier, Carter had said he was confident Turkey would take part in the operation.
“I think there is agreement in principle,” he said after a visit to Turkey. “Iraq understands that Turkey, as a member of the counter-ISIL coalition, will play a role in counter-ISIL operations in Iraq.
“Secondly, Turkey, since it neighbours the region of Mosul, has an interest [in] the ultimate outcome in Mosul. I’m confident that we can work things out.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim criticised Iraq’s leadership, saying it was “being provocative” with recent comments and said Ankara will continue to have a presence in Iraq.
“In recent days, there have been warnings from Iraq. We will not listen to this, nobody can tell us to not be concerned about the region,” Yildirim told a conference of his ruling AK Party, which is being held this weekend in western Afyon province.
“The Iraqi leadership is being provocative. Turkey does not bow to anyone’s threats. Turkey will continue to be present there.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of sectarian bloodshed if the Iraqi army relies on Shia fighters to retake the largely Sunni city of Mosul.
Mosul is about five times the size of any other city ISIL has held, and the push to capture it is expected to become the biggest battle in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Mosul was once part of the Ottoman Empire and is still seen by Turkey as firmly within its sphere of influence.
A senior US defence official indicated that Turkey could provide medical or humanitarian support, or train Iraqi forces.
Ankara fears the operation to retake Mosul could be spearheaded by Shia and Kurdish militia that are vehemently opposed by Turkey.