ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey on Monday withdrew some of its soldiers from a camp in Iraq, its prime minister announced, days after Iraq had demanded that Turkish troops immediately leave its territory.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with A Haber news channel that a group of soldiers was pulled out as part of a “rearrangement” of troops and a “military necessity.”
Turkey has had troops near the Islamic State group-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq since last year to help train local Kurdish and Sunni forces, but the arrival of additional troops earlier this month sparked uproar in Baghdad. Turkey subsequently halted new deployments, but has refused to withdraw its soldiers.
Davutoglu wouldn’t provide details but suggested on Monday that the group of trainers would remain near Mosul.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed military officials, said a 10- or 12-vehicle convoy including tanks had left the Bashiqa camp and was heading toward northern Iraq.
It wasn’t immediately known if the Turkish troops would return to Turkey or would be stationed in Iraq’s Kurdish-controlled region.
But an Associated Press journalist saw Turkish trucks loaded with tanks inside a Turkish base in the Kurdish-controlled Barmane region. Witness Newroz Mikael, 32, said the trucks passed his shop Monday morning. Kurdish Peshmerga forces escorted the trucks loaded with tanks and vans with soldiers in them, Mikael said.
He said that “an estimated eight vehicles loaded with eight tanks and some buses passed us here.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq in a national address Friday night, insisting that no foreign forces are needed to fight IS in his country. He also asked the Foreign Ministry to complain to the United Nations about the presence of Turkish troops.
Turkey argued the additional troops were needed to protect its trainers from an increased IS threat against Turkish soldiers.
Atheel al-Nujaifi, former Mosul governor who established the Sunni militia camp where Turkish trainers and troops were stationed, confirmed that Turkey pulled out some troops.
“They withdrew Turkish soldiers as well as some tanks. Not all of them but some, I can’t say exactly how many,” al Nujaifi told the AP, adding “the Turkish trainers are still in the camp providing training.”