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Carter in Iraq, Gets Assessment of Mosul Fight

By VOA News October 23, 2016

Iraqi and Kurdish forces were in a new offensive Sunday on a town near Mosul, as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the region to get an assessment of the battle to push Islamic State out of Iraq's second largest city.

Carter was in Irbil Sunday for talks with Kurdish leaders and military commanders close to the fight to retake Mosul. Shortly after arriving on the unannounced visit, Carter met with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, the president of the largely autonomous Kurdish region in the northern part of the country.

Kurdish peshmerga forces have been pushing toward towns just northeast of Mosul to clear the way for other troops to make their way into the city of some one million civilians and oust Islamic State fighters. Peshmerga forces were in a new push Sunday on the town of Bashiqa.

Carter is also discussing Turkey's role in the battle to retake Mosul after his meetings Saturday with Iraq's prime minister in Baghdad and Friday with Turkey's president in Ankara.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has rejected a bid from Turkey to participate in the military push to retake the city.

Abadi said Saturday the existing alliance will handle the ongoing battle without Turkey's help.

Abadi spoke in Baghdad after unscheduled talks with Carter, who has sought to ease rising tensions between Turkey's Sunni leadership and Abadi's Shi'ite government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday gave voice to the frayed bilateral ties, demanding a role in the Mosul battle and warning that Turkish troops already positioned in northern Iraq would not take orders from the Shi'ite government in Baghdad.

"Turkey's army has not lost enough of its quality to take orders from you," Erdogan said in comments aimed at Abadi.

Abadi responded Saturday, saying, "I know the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul and the rest of the territories."

For his part, Carter, in comments to reporters in Baghdad described the issue of a Turkish role in the Mosul fight as a difficult subject. He also stressed that Iraq's sovereignty is paramount in the ongoing push against Islamic State.

"I also reaffirm to you today the vital importance of every country operating with full respect for Iraqi sovereignty. That is the principle upon which the international collation and everything that it does in this country is 100 percent committed to and I wanted to say that and confirm that to you," said Carter.

The push to retake Iraq's second-largest city with the help of a U.S.-backed 60-nation coalition is expected to rage for weeks or longer.

In another development, Iraqi officials said Friday's coordinated assault by IS fighters in the strategic oil city of Kirkuk had ended in failure, with all attackers either killed in battle or blown up by their own explosives.

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