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Turkey, Iraqi Kurdish Leaders Meet Amid Dispute Over Troops

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) meets with Iraqi Kurdish regional President Masud Barzani at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on December 9.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the leader of Iraq's Kurdish region on December 9 in Ankara amid diplomatic efforts to resolve a dispute over Turkish troops in northern Iraq.

Erdogan and Kurdish regional President Masud Barzani reportedly discussed the need to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, which is the reason Turkey says it has stationed troops in northern Iraq to work with and train Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Barzani, who has long-standing ties with Ankara, also made an unannounced visit to Turkey's National Intelligence Organization and visited with spy chief Hakan Fidan during his two-day stay in Turkey.

The two presidents did not issue a statement after their hour-and-a-half meeting, but Erdogan told Al-Jazeera that the Turkish forces were deployed at the request of Iraq's leader in 2014 and Baghdad had not made an issue of it until this week.

"We were asked by Prime Minister [Haidar] al-Abadi to help train soldiers and, at his request, we set up a training camp in Bashiqa in 2014," Erdogan told the Qatar-based television channel.

Abadi "did not say a word until just now," the Turkish leader said.

Abadi over the weekend demanded that Turkey withdraw the troops, calling their deployment "a hostile act," but he more recently has sought to resolve the matter through negotiations.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said December 9 that the Turkish soldiers were dispatched to Iraq after an increase in the threat to Turkish military trainers from IS, also known as Daesh. He said the deployment was an act of solidarity, not aggression.

"These trainers in Bashiqa camp were threatened by Daesh because it is 15 to 20 kilometers from Mosul and they have only light arms," he told journalists in Istanbul. IS gained control of Mosul last year.

Davutoglu is expected to visit Baghdad soon to try to calm tensions.

Despite attempts at resolving differences, Turkey issued an advisory to its citizens on December 9 to leave all areas of Iraq except Iraq's Kurdish region due to increased security risks.

Ankara cited increasing threats to Turkish companies, as well as threats of violence, abduction, and attacks on Turkish citizens.

With reporting by AFP, Today's Zaman, and Reuters
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