Turkey has confirmed its troops have fired at positions held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in a town near Mosul after receiving a request by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters for assistance.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced on Sunday Turkey’s involvement in the military offensive near Bashiqa, a town east of Mosul. He said that the Kurdish Peshmerga requested Turkey’s assistance.
ISIL, also known as ISIS, took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in 2014. A major drive to remove the hardline group from Mosul began last Monday.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are advancing on Bashiqa having launched a new operation on Sunday.
“The Peshmerga have mobilised to cleanse the Bashiqa region from Daesh [ISIL]. They asked for help from our soldiers at the Bashiqa base. So we are helping the tanks with our artillery there,” Yildirim said.
Turkey has troops at the base in Bashiqa, north of Mosul, where they have been helping to train Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni fighters.
Relations between Ankara and Baghdad have been strained after Turkey sent hundreds of troops to the Bashiqa region to train anti-ISIL fighters. Baghdad labels the move a violation of its sovereignty and demands Turkish withdrawal, a call which Ankara ignores.
Turkey claims the use of Shia militias to liberate Mosul will displace its largely Sunni population, and has demanded the Sunni fighters it has trained also play a role in the Mosul campaign.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Erbil, said Turkey’s latest moves were “hugely controversial”.
“This is something that the federal government in Baghdad does not want – they have made this very clear,” Dekker said.
“In fact, the US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter was in Baghdad yesterday. He put it to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi whether the Turks should have some involvement, and Abadi said ‘No thank you, we will leave this up to the Iraqis’.”
Tens of thousands of fighters, including Iraqi federal troops and Kurdish Peshmerga, are taking part in the assault.
“Ankara wants to get involved. Turkey says it is their responsibility to ensure that Mosul doesn’t fall in the hands of any Shia or Kurdish militia,” said our correspondent.
Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces are pushing into the district of Hamdaniya, from the south.
Hamdaniya, considered to be the gateway to Mosul, was a densely populated area housing more than 60,000 people before the ISIL takeover.
“The Iraqi troops are now in Hamdaniya, fighting their way towards the city centre,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the outskirts of Hamdiniya.
“But it is proving to be a very difficult fight because ISIL still have snipers in the area. And they are still using suicide car bombs.”
Some 1.5 million residents remain trapped in Mosul and worst-case scenario forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations. UN aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced about 6,000 to flee their homes.