- Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq's north, received a warm welcome in Ankara for key talks.
Barzani's first stop in Ankara was the headquarters of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, welcomed the Kurdish leader at Esenboğa Airport. A KRG flag was on the table during the meeting, along with the Turkish and the Iraqi flags, a rare implementation in the mutual meetings.
However, the three flags were observed in previous visits by the Turkish authorities to the KRG capital of Arbil.
Former Turkish Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker welcomed KRG Agriculture Minister Abdulsitar Macid earlier this year, with the media reporting that this was the first time that a KRG flag had been used in an official visit to Turkey.
Barzani was also scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Before moving to Turkey, Barzani hosted the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Lloyd Austin near Arbil.
Tensions have recently escalated between Turkey and Iraq, as the central Iraqi government has slammed the recent of additional Turkish troops to the camp, vowing to take its case to the United Nations if Turkey did not withdraw.
A much-anticipated counter-offensive by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul from IS has been repeatedly postponed because they are tied down in fighting elsewhere.
Iraq has urged the international community to provide more weapons and training in its battle against the militants, but rejects most forms of direct intervention, mistrusting the intentions of foreign powers.
A small number of Turkish trainers were already at the camp near Mosul before the latest deployment on Dec. 3 in order to train the Hashid Watani (national mobilization), a force made up of mainly former Iraqi police or Sunni Arab origin and volunteers from Mosul.
Meanwhile, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations on Dec. 8 appeared to play down a dispute between Baghdad and Ankara over the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, saying bilateral talks between the neighboring states to end the row were proceeding favorably.
“We are solving it between Baghdad and Ankara bilaterally,” Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Ali al-Hakim told reporters after Russia raised the issue of Turkey's deployment during a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
“We have not yet escalated it to the Security Council or to the United Nations,” he said, adding that Moscow had not consulted with Baghdad before raising the issue in the council.
“For us, what is helpful is the bilateral discussion going on right now between Baghdad and Ankara, and it's going extremely well,” he said.
But al-Hakim reiterated that Iraq wanted the Turkish troops withdrawn from its territory immediately, saying the deployment was “illegal” and a violation of the United Nations charter.
On the same day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked NATO to put pressure on alliance member Turkey to withdraw its troops immediately from northern Iraq after Ankara said it would not deploy any more but refused to pull out those already there.
“NATO must use its authority to urge Turkey to withdraw immediately from Iraqi territory,” al-Abadi said in a statement, posted after a 48-hour deadline set by Baghdad for a withdrawal of the troops expired.
Al-Abadi spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg by telephone, the statement added, calling the deployment a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.