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January 20, 2012, Friday

Attack on Turkish embassy in Baghdad: from tension to crisis

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki keeps creating tension in the bilateral relations between Turkey and Iraq in a systematic way. By pointing to Turkey as a target, the Iraqi government ensured the issuance of an arrest warrant for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.

Maliki has been making offensive statements against Turkey. Most recently, the tension was escalated by a new attack on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad on Jan. 18, 2012. In this way, we see there are attempts to ensure the artificial tension is replaced by a new crisis.

Turkey is the only country that did not close its embassy in Iraq after 2003. Even though there have been three attacks against the embassy in Baghdad, Turkey still remained committed to its work in the country. The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad is one of only a few diplomatic missions outside the Green Zone, which is known for its heightened security and surrounded by tall walls in downtown Baghdad. The protection of the Turkish Embassy, located in the al-Wazireya neighborhood, where high-level executives used to live in the city, is the responsibility of Iraqi security forces. The Turkish Embassy is visibly connected to the neighborhood in which it is located; the embassy’s relationship with nearby residents is such that the embassy supplies electricity to them. And the neighborhood also serves as the natural protector of the embassy. This is why it won’t be too difficult to determine where and how the attack was staged.

Is Turkey really interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq? There is one single policy Turkey has been pursuing in Iraq: Iraq belongs to Iraqis, and the integrity of Iraq should be preserved. Turkey has never endorsed military operations in Iraq. It has never picked one specific ethnicity, religion, political party or sectarian group. It has remained at an equally distance from all political groups. It never extended support to an armed group in the country. Turkey has also taken the wounded and those affected by terrorism to its state hospitals for treatment without making any distinction based on race, ethnicity or religion. In order to help democracy develop in Iraq, Turkey also trained the representatives of political parties. In general elections held on March 7, 2010, Turkey deployed the largest group of civilian observers (I served in this group and observed the voting in Kirkuk). The size of bilateral trade between Turkey and Iraq has increased from $942 million in 2003 to $12 billion in 2011. The role and contribution of Turkish companies in the reconstruction of Iraq is undeniable.

But what happened while bilateral relations between Turkey and Iraq were so good? What influenced Maliki’s judgment given that he had good relations with Turkey? Maliki is a smart politician. Despite the fact that he has been serving as prime minister without the support of a specific tribe, clan, religion or sect, he has managed to maintain control over the bureaucracy. What, then, is Maliki’s goal in transforming the tension with Turkey into a crisis?

Let us try to make the proper analysis by asking the proper questions. Does Iran want to move the possible upcoming war out of its territory? Will it move this war into Iraq, followed by Syria, then Lebanon and the Gulf?

Or is it saying, by using the Maliki card, external actors should stay away from the Middle East and the Shiite Crescent (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon)? Does this mean that Turkey has been picked as a scapegoat, and the Sunni Arabs in Iraq are being removed from domestic politics in the country?

Regardless, Turkey will maintain its current stance with the peoples of the Middle East, embracing them. Neither Ankara nor Teheran or Baghdad can stop this. The recent incidents in Iraq show Ankara should know Iraqi Shiism better and have better contacts with Shiite political groups and parties. Dialogue is always the best solution to prevent misunderstandings. The best protection is transparent bilateral relations.

I offer my deepest sympathies to Turkey’s envoy to Baghdad Yunus Demirer and his team of young diplomats. They are the representatives of Turkey, as well as of the Iraqi people.

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