BAGHDAD Thousands of Iraqis protested on Saturday against Ankara’s deployment of troops to a base near the northern city of Mosul, with some burning Turkish flags and threatening violence against the soldiers for what they see as a violation of sovereignty.
News of the deployment of 150 Turkish soldiers earlier this month triggered a crisis among Ankara and Baghdad, which has appealed to the United Nations Security Council to demand their instant and unconditional withdrawal.
Ankara has refused, saying the troops had been component of an international mission to train and equip Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State, which nonetheless controls a massive component of the country. Baghdad denies inviting such a force.
At least 4,000 demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Saturday, and many thousand much more in the oil city of Basra in the south, including Shi’ite militia members who held up banners reading “Death to Turkey. Death to Erdogan”.
“We consider any military presence on Iraqi land as foreign aggression which we must stand against utilizing all attainable implies,” Hadi al-Amiri, a Shi’ite lawmaker who heads the potent armed Badr Organisation, told protesters in Baghdad.
The rallies were organized and led by Shi’ite militia groups, which have threatened to use force against Turkey unless it withdraws.
Pointing his pistol towards an image of Erdogan, Amjad Salim, a regional commander in the Badr Organisation in Basra, mentioned: “We are on higher alert now awaiting orders from our commanders to set fire to the ground beneath the feet of Turkish soldiers.”
In Baghdad, Reuters reporters saw angry protesters trample on the Turkish flag and hit a caricature of Erdogan with slippers in a mark of disrespect.
“If Turkey thinks Iraq is busy with fighting Daesh and it can seize the chance to deploy troops then it need to feel twice before generating such a error,” said Abu Muntathar al-Moussawi, a nearby commander in Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group.
“We can target Turkish soldiers and coming days will prove it.”
(Added reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra Writing by Ahmed Rasheed Editing by Isabel Coles and Raissa Kasolowsky)