Turkey apologises to Iraq for defence minister visit - prime minister

Turkey has apologised for the unannounced visit of its defence minister to a base in Iraq, said Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Kadhimi.

On Saturay, Kadhimi told Kurdish news outlet Rudaw English that the visit of Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar without first seeking permission from Baghdad was due to a "technical error."

“The Iraqi defense minister spoke to his Turkish counterpart two days ago – the Turkish government has apologised for the entry of its defense minister into Iraqi land,” Kadhimi told the news website. "A technical error is what led to the Turkish defence minister entering Iraq. 

Akar traveled to Iraq last week to visit Turkish troops located at the Bilic Tepe Base Area, located in northern Iraq. There he was briefed on the combat operations being conducted against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey has established military bases and outposts in the region to battle the PKK, which has fought for Kurdish autonomy from Turkey for four decades and is recognised as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Iraq's government issued a swift rebuke to Turkey after Akar's visit. 

On May 3, Iraq’s foreign ministry summoned Turkey's chargé d’affairs to Baghdad to express its strong displeasure at Akar entering the country without formal permission. Senior undersecretary Nizar Al-Khairalla handed the diplomat a formal note of protest, complaining that Turkey was breaking international law by infringing on Iraq’s territorial integrity.

This is the second time in recent weeks that a Turkish minister has stirred anger from senior Iraqi politicians for what they see as Ankara's disrespect towards its sovereignty. On April 30, the Turkish interior ministry announced plans to set up a new base in Metina in northern Iraq. This followed previous operations launched against the PKK on April 24.

Soon after this announcement, Badr al-Ziyadi, a member of the Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee in Baghdad, said Turkey's advance on Iraqi soil was “a clear violation of the country's sovereignty”. Another politician went so far as to call Turkey's plans a "declaration of war" against Iraq while criticising Kadhimi for his failure to prevent this. 

Iran, Iraq's neighbour and a sponsor for many of the militias which operate alongside Iraqi security forces, vocally opposes Turkey's expansion of its operations against the PKK. Iran's opposition prompted a war of words with Turkey after remarks made by the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad prompted a tit for tat summoning of ambassadors for a diplomatic dressing down. 

Some of these militias warned Turkey to withdraw its troops from Iraq and surged into Sinjar province to deter any future operations. This directly undermines a fragile peace deal that was sponsored by the United States and United Nations, and approved by Turkey, that looked to replace the presence of all armed groups with Iraqi federal forces.