An Iraqi court issued an arrest warrant against former provincial governor Atheel al-Nujaifi for allegedly allowing Turkish troops into Iraq last year, a controversy that has resurfaced as Iraqi and Kurdish forces are locked in an offensive to evict ISIS from its stronghold of Mosul.
Nujaifi, a Sunni, was the governor of Nineveh Province – where Mosul is the capital — when it fell to ISIS in June 2014. The Iraqi parliament removed him from his position the year after.
According to Turkish authorities, Nujaifi had agreed to allowing Turkish troops into Iraq during his governorship.
Abdulstar Birqdar, the spokesman of the Iraqi judiciary, said Thursday that three Iraqi MPs had filed a complaint against Nujaifi in December last year, claiming he had “sought the help of a foreign state whereby he facilitated the Turkish troops and empowered them to open a military base in the Zilkan military camp north of the province.”
The court warrant accuses Nujaifi of spying for a foreign country.
According to Turkish authorities, it was Nujaifi who gave the green light for troops to set up base in Iraq. Turkey says its role at the Bashiqa camp had been to train the Sunni Nineveh Guard militia, formerly known as the Hashd al-Watani. Nujaifi is in command of the militia, which enjoys good relations with Turkey.
Nujaifi said in a Facebook posting after news of the warrant that the Mosul offensive was the priority at this time, and that his Turkish-trained forces would be fighting alongside the Iraqi army for Mosul. He downplayed the accusation, saying he would leave the issue to those interested in “trivia” until “the dust of war” is settled and the matter can be dealt with legally.
For months, in the run-up to the Mosul offensive that kicked off Monday, Iraq had publicly urged Ankara to withdraw its troops from its base in Bashiqa and warned against Turkish involvement in the liberation of Mosul.