Turkey says ready to train Iraqi forces if plans for US training fail

Turkey has told Iraq that it is ready to provide training for Iraqi security forces if the Iraqi and US governments fail to agree on a deal for US training of Iraqi security personnel, a news report said.

The offer was made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who visited Ankara on Friday, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported, citing a statement from the Iraqi Presidency on Sunday. The statement came after a recent announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that negotiations with the US over training for Iraqi forces came to a dead end because the Iraqi side rejected US demands for immunity for its troops.

Turkish officials, speaking to Today’s Zaman, did not discuss the content of Erdoğan’s Friday meeting with Hashemi, but said Ankara would respond favorably if the Iraqi side comes up with a request for Turkish trainers. “Turkey is ready to do its best to help Iraq’s stability,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Nearly 40,000 US troops remain in Iraq, all of whom will withdraw by Dec. 31 — a deadline set in a 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and Washington. However, the two sides had earlier agreed in principle that several thousand US troops should stay after the Dec. 31 deadline as trainers, but negotiations to work out a deal to allow this have been deadlocked as Iraq objects to immunity for US troops if they commit crimes.

“When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible,” Maliki was quoted by the Associated Press as telling reporters in Baghdad on Oct. 22. “The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.”

Hashimi, who met Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Friday, said it was important to explore other options for training Iraqi forces, given the stalemate in talks with the US over the immunity question.

The Iraqi vice president added that the international community should help Iraq build a “balanced” and professional military to fill in “any security vacuum” that might result following the US forces’ withdrawal by the end of this year, the KUNA report said.

Erdoğan responded by saying Turkey is ready to provide training for Iraqi forces. But whether Turkish trainers would be welcome by all Iraqis is an open question, with the report saying Iraqi Kurds are likely to oppose such a deal. The issue of immunity has been a delicate one in Iraq since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein as some US troops and contractors have been accused of abuses. In a 2007 shooting incident, five contractors working for the Blackwater security firm were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in a case that outraged Iraqis and strained ties between Baghdad and Washington.

Maliki told reporters he still wants American help in training Iraqi forces to use billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment that Baghdad is buying from the United States. He did not say if the prospective US trainers would be active-duty troops and said any immunity deals for them would have to be worked out in the future.





31 October 2011, Monday / TODAY’S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL