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'Raqqa should be taken by 'local forces'

Turkey’s foreign minister said Wednesday the Syrian city of Raqqa should be taken from ISIS by local forces as soon as possible.

Raqqa has been dubbed the so-called “capital” of the ISIS terror group.

However, speaking at a joint news conference with Albanian Foreign Minister Di̇tmi̇r Bushati on Wednesday, Cavusoglu also ruled out involvement by the PKK and YPG.

"If you consider the PKK and YPG to be local forces, we would not grant it," Cavusoglu said.

The YPG is the armed wing of the PYD, which Turkey considers the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist group.

The PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- resumed its decades-old armed campaign in July last year.

Cavusoglu said the PKK/YPG could not be considered local forces in Raqqa in the same way Iraqi Shia militias could not be considered local in the operation to take the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.

Turkey’s foreign minister said Ankara respected Iraq’s territorial integrity much more than other states.

"However, we have difficulty in understanding of their [Iraqi government’s] negative attitude on our [Bashiqa] camp. We hope to deal this issue with Iraq on the bilateral level. The talks should continue in the coming period," he added.

One week ago, Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes launched a much-anticipated offensive to retake Mosul, which was overrun by ISIS in mid-2014.

'Turkey will not forsake Tal Afar's Turkmen'

Turkey will take all necessary measures if any threat emerges from a Shia militia taking the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar from ISIS, said Turkey's foreign minister.

"Fighting ISIS is necessary, but the process after ISIS must be planned carefully," Mevlut Cavusoglu told.

“Ethnic and sectarian balances must be taken into account in Mosul and Tal Afar,” a ISIS-held city 63 kilometers (39 miles) west of Mosul, he added.

Pointing to the threat of Hashd al-Shaabi, an umbrella group of pro-government Shia militias, Cavusoglu said in addition to the expected attack on Mosul, the militia is also targeting largely Sunni areas.

Cavusoglu underlined that Turkey will "take all precautionary measures allowed by international law" if anything in Tal Afar threatens Turkey’s security.

Cavusoglu also warned that Turkey "will not be insensitive" if the Turkmens of Tal Afar are attacked.


Sectarian conflict

During a meeting with U.S. officials in Ankara on Nov. 4, Turkey made it clear it supports the homecoming of all Sunni and Shia Turkmen to Tal Afar after Mosul’s liberation, but it does not want Hashd al-Shaabi to settle in the district, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

In Turkey's view, Hashd al-Shaabi moving into Tal Afar would bring sectarian conflict to the city, said the source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on talking with the media.

Turkish authorities also warned that Tal Afar’s Turkmen would be harmed the most by the presence of Shia militants there.

The Turkmen people have been oppressed ever since ISIS occupied Mosul and Tal Afar in 2014.

Since the occupation began, Tal Afar’s population has plummeted from over a half-million to less than 50,000, mostly consisting of Turkmen.

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