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Turkey deploys tanks, artillery near Iraq border


Ankara, Turkey | AFP |

The Turkish military has deployed tanks and artillery to southeastern districts near the Iraqi border, military sources said Tuesday.

The 30-vehicle convoy left Ankara for Silopi, the sources told AFP, adding that it was now close to Adana province in southern Turkey.

The deployment came as Iraq said its forces had entered jihadist-held Mosul for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the city more than two years ago.

Ankara has repeatedly insisted that it would be involved in the offensive in northern Iraq and would be “at the table”.

Defence Minister Fikri Isik said Tuesday’s deployment was a part of Turkey’s preparation for “important developments in the region”, referring to Kurdish rebels inside the country and events in Iraq.

“Turkey is preparing in advance for whatever happens (and) this is one element of that,” he said, quoted by the official news agency Anadolu.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, with almost daily attacks against Turkish security forces in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Isik added that there was a “serious fight against terror” inside Turkey, a reference to Islamic State (IS) jihadists and the PKK.

Last month, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed Turkish artillery hit IS positions in Bashiqa, northern Iraq.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Saturday indicated that Turkey wanted to reinforce its security forces already in Silopi in Sirnak province.

– Clashes –

There have been clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants in Silopi while its residents have been subject to curfews earlier this year. The district is also close to PKK bases in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq.

Erdogan also warned Shiite militias in Iraq against attacking Turkmen residents of Tal Afar, a town near Mosul, after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force launched an offensive at the weekend.

The Iraqi army’s offensive to take back Mosul from the Islamic State group was one of the issues discussed by the army chiefs of Turkey and Russia at a meeting in Moscow Tuesday.

Valery Guerassimov and Hulusi Akkar also focused on the conflict in Syria.

“The question of settling the Syrian conflict, including the normalisation of the situation in Aleppo, was discussed during this meeting,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement, adding that it was an “open” exchange of views.

Russia has been militarily backing its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has been a supporter of the Syrian opposition seeking to oust the Damascus regime.

Guerassimov also informed the Turkish military leader of Russian efforts to “help the humanitarian situation in Aleppo,” the statement added.

Russia has now ceased air strikes on eastern Aleppo for 16 days, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday, after criticism over a Russian-backed Syrian government assault that has killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed infrastructure including hospitals.

Shoigu also accused the US-led coalition in Syria of failing to rein in hardline rebels, and said the chance of a political settlement was remote.


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