A Turkish army officer who was involved with a secret operation in Iraq revealed that Turkey staged a false withdrawal of tanks to ease tensions and soften reactions in 2015.
“A fake withdrawal was executed after reactions from the Iraqi government and other countries following the opening of the Bashiqa base [near Mosul],” said Lt. Murat Aletirik of the Special Forces Command, who was deployed to Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
“In this context, a pipe resembling to a tank gun was attached to a truck to make it appear like a real tank and covered with a tarp. It was then towed by military trucks,” he added.
The revelations were found in the transcript of a court hearing obtained by Nordic Monitor that was held on July 17, 2017 at the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court, where Aletirik was standing trial on coup plotting charges.
In December 2015 Turkey’s deployment of a battalion and dozens of tanks to Bashiqa, officially called Gedu, a base near the Iraqi city of Mosul for what the Turkish government claimed was training and assisting local Sunni and Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), sparked a diplomatic crisis. Baghdad summoned the Turkish ambassador on December 5 to demand the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish troops, and a strong reaction also came from Iran and Syria. The federal government threatened that it would go to the UN Security Council with a formal complaint if Turkey did not withdraw its troops.
Testimony of Lt. Murat Aletirik:Bashiaq_Murat_aletirik_testimony
In a statement the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the Turkish forces entered Iraqi territory without the knowledge of the central government in Baghdad and that Iraq considered such a presence “a hostile act.” “This is considered a violation and a breach of the sovereignty of the country,” the statement said. Then-Iraqi President Fuad Masum called it a “violation of international norms, laws and Iraq’s national sovereignty” and said it contributed to increased tensions in the region.
Hakim al-Zamili, the head of parliament’s security and defense committee, went a step further, calling on Iraq’s prime minister to launch airstrikes against the Turkish troops if they remained in Iraqi territory. Iran, a main backer of the Shiite militias in Iraq, said Turkey’s deployment of troops would create chaos and risked regional security.
Turkish officials played down the nature of the troop deployment following the uproar on the Iraqi side, calling the move a routine troop rotation. Then-Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the Turkish forces had set up camp near Mosul almost a year earlier in coordination with the Iraqi authorities. “This camp was established as a training camp for a force of local volunteers fighting terrorism,” he said. Davutoğlu said the camp, located some 19 miles northeast of Mosul, was established at the Mosul governor’s request and in coordination with the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said it was out of the question for the troops to be entirely withdrawn from Iraq.
To allay Iraq’s concerns, Turkey eventually decided to “reorganize” its military personnel at the Bashiqa camp after then-Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan visited Baghdad for talks. Turkish officials never explained what the troop reorganization would involve, but apparently a deal was made in Baghdad to withdraw tanks from the base. After a bitter week-long dispute with Baghdad, Turkey reportedly partially withdrew some of its troops from the camp near Mosul and repositioned them near the Turkey-Iraq border. Turkish newspapers quoted an unnamed senior Turkish official source who said, “Within the scope of the new arrangement, a convoy of 10-12 vehicles carrying some of our troops in Bashiqa has moved towards northern Iraq.”
However, Lt. Aletirik’s revelations in court indicate such a reorganization did not really take place and that it was staged to make Baghdad believe that the withdrawal had taken place.
According to a classified Turkish military document that shows the Turkish army presence in northern Iraq as of July 12, 2016, there were 1,151 troops from various force units including four battalions from the elite Special Forces Command — in total 36 tanks and some two dozen armored personnel carriers and armored combat vehicles. In Bashiqa alone Turkey maintained 739 troops including 42 officers and 18 noncommissioned officers. The base was equipped with 18 tanks, four 155-mm artillery cannons, a radar unit and other military hardware. An additional 25 tanks and 116 troops were on standby and ready to be transported to Iraq’s north.