Shiite cleric urged Baghdad to halt Turkish military presence in Iraq
Al Sadr says Iraq-Turkey agreement against PKK is unlikely
Muqtada Al Sadr, the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, disputed claims that Turkey and Baghdad are in agreement over launching a military operation against Kurdish insurgents in the country's north.
Last month Turkey raised the prospect of direct military intervention against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militia - an armed group that has been waging an insurgency against Ankara for decades.
“They [Turkey] said it was in coordination with the government of Iraq, but I doubt it,” the cleric and politician said on Monday evening.
Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said that Iraqi armed forces would prevent Kurdish militants based in northern Iraq from staging cross-border attacks against Turkey.
"Iraqi security forces have been instructed not to allow the presence of foreign fighters in the border region," Mr Al Abadi told his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildririm.
But Turkey has long complained that PKK fighters have been given free rein to plot attacks against Turkey from neighbouring Iraq.
Last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would do “what is necessary” if an Iraqi operation against the PKK failed.
The Shiite cleric has since urged Baghdad to deter Ankara’s forces from advancing in the country.
Meanwhile, the Turkish army announced it is establishing a new military base in a high-altitude area of the southeastern province of Hakkari, near the Iraqi border, as part of its counter-terrorism operations.
On Saturday Turkey's armed forces announced that some 108 militants had been "neutralised" in one week in south-east Turkey and northern Iraq.
The military uses the term "neutralised" to refer to operations in which opposition forces have been killed, wounded or captured.
In March, Turkey threatened to begin an offensive in Sinjar, where PKK members had been based since 2014, prompting the alleged withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters.
The PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States, has for decades also been based in Iraq's Qandil mountain range, near the border with Iran.
In Syria, Turkish forces are currently waging a full-scale military operation in the Afrin region of northern Syria against the US-allied YPG Kurdish militia that Ankara says has close ties to the PKK.
Mr Al Sadr, a once notorious firebrand that emerged after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, has since sought to reinvent himself in the public eye.
The Shiite cleric has pledged to mend ties and defuse tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“The political tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, negatively impacts Iraq- I am ready, although it might be difficult, to interfere in solving some of their issues for the benefit of Iraq and the region,” Mr Al Sadr said in a statement.
Iraq has been caught up in the region's sectarian divisions since 2003, tensions increased when Tehran emerged as the country’s major foreign power broker.
Since then, Mr Al Sadr has positioned himself as a counterweight against Iranian influence in Iraq and as a champion of reform.
Last year, the cleric was warmly welcomed in the region’s leading Gulf states, he made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia last year - the first in more than a decade, and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The development follows the announcement of an Iraqi security operation that killed a top ISIL leader on Monday.
Iraq’s Al-Sumeria TV cited intelligence sources who said Abu Walid Shishani was killed in an operation on the outskirts of Kirkuk.
Shishani was alleged to be the mastermind being a string of recent ISIL attacks in Kirkuk and was a close associate of ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.