Between whirlwind diplomacy from Libya to Syria, from the draft genocide bill in France, to the upcoming Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) in İstanbul, a key visit to the Turkish capital by the Iraqi vice president earlier this week was virtually overlooked by the media.
Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi met for almost two hours with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu late on Tuesday when the two exchanged views on developments in Bahrain, Libya and Syria, as well as discussing bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries.
During the meeting, Abdul-Mahdi asked for Turkey’s assessments of these issues, with Davutoğlu sharing his views with him on the latest developments in the region and conveying Turkey’s sentiments, diplomatic sources said. At the meeting, Abdul-Mahdi said that analysis of by two countries regarding the latest developments in the region have been parallel with each other.
Developments of the political situation in Iraq and ongoing political consultations between Iraqi political forces to form a new government was also on the agenda of the Abdul-Mahdi-Davutoğlu meeting, Sunday’s Zaman learned from reliable sources.
As a matter of fact, the timing of the Abdul-Mahdi’s visit is meaningful of itself as it came at a time of growing questions being raised over whether acts of interference from Iran into Iraq, joint neighbors with Turkey, will increase amidst the uprising in Bahrain, which is prone to be used by Iran as an opportunity for promoting instability in the Arabian Gulf.
Abdul-Mahdi’s visit to Ankara was part of a regional tour of Arab and regional countries including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Syrian Arab Republic and the Turkish Republic.
Earlier on Tuesday, Abdul-Mahdi was in Kuwait, where he also met with Jordanian King Abdullah at the Bayan Palace in addition to Kuwaiti leaders. Also on Tuesday, King Abdullah discussed with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah prospects for further cooperation between the two countries and the latest developments in the Middle East.
Discussions between King Abdullah and Abdul-Mahdi covered bilateral ties and means to develop cooperation between Jordan and Iraq to best serve the interests of the two countries, in addition to the latest developments in the region, The Jordan Times reported.
In Damascus, Abdul-Mahdi met with Assad and discussed with him the success of the electoral process in Iraq and the situation after legislative elections that took place on March 7, and the pursuit of Iraqi national forces to form a government of national partnership to strengthen security and stability in Iraq, Iraqi media reported earlier this week.
The visit by Abdul-Mahdi also came weeks after Iraqi forces stormed on April 8 an Iranian exile camp that Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government has tried to close for years. At Camp Ashraf in Iraq’s northeastern Diyala province, 34 people were killed and hundreds were wounded after Iraqi security forces moved against it.
Early on Friday an Iraqi official reportedly said that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not inform officials in Diyala province of attacks against Camp Ashraf and what happened there on April 8 was completely out of the authority of Diyala’s local government.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) stated on its website on Friday that the Navkho news agency last week reported that the Diyala provincial council had expressed sympathy with the residents of Camp Ashraf.
“Omar Farouq, a member of Diyala’s provincial council, said the April 8 attack on the camp by Iraqi forces was conducted by Nouri al-Maliki without the knowledge of the province. Other members of the council, as well as the governor of Diyala province, have also distanced themselves from the attack in recent weeks, and officially condemned it,” said the NCRI. The NCRI is a broad coalition of Iranian organizations, groups and personalities which was founded in 1981 in Tehran upon the initiative of Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian resistance movement.
Last month, Agence France-Presse (AFP) commented that the Iraqi raid on an Iranian opposition base inside its territory signals the growing influence of neighboring Iran, as US forces prepare to withdraw at the end of this year.
In Tehran, earlier this week, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast criticized recent remarks by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan against Iran.
“Some regional states are trying to close their eyes on regional realities by laying the blame on other states,” Mehmanparast said on Wednesday.
The remarks by the spokesperson came after the UAE foreign minister accused Iran of interfering in Bahrain’s affairs. The minister’s remarks came at the second joint ministerial meeting for strategic dialogue between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states and China in Abu Dhabi.
Showdown and responsibility
Right from the very beginning of the regional upheavals, Ankara has tirelessly voiced its sensitivity to the ramifications of increasing sectarian tension in the Gulf region, while also expressing its well-known sensitivities for protection of territorial integrity. In the meantime, it also called on the regional administrations, including Bahrain, to carry out political reforms in order to meet the demands of their peoples, which it considers to be “legitimate” demands.
Ankara has actually stepped up diplomatic efforts to contain the Bahrain crisis since around two months after the wave of Arab unrest hit Bahrain nearly three months ago. The Gulf country’s sectarian characteristics make it different from other upheavals in the Middle East, and Ankara has intensified its contacts with authorities in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iran to help contain the crisis , which was sparked by Shiite protests against the Sunni-led government and which grew after Saudi Arabia sent troops to quell the upheaval in mid-March.
“The main point is: We have had contact with all parties in order to prevent more perilous steps from being taken,” a senior Turkish diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman last month, as he outlined Turkey’s overall policy during the start of the latest upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.
“In Bahrain, there are two different aspects: First, it may lead to a sectarian division and second, it may turn into a regional conflict. In Libya, for example, the case is involved within the country itself. Or, let’s put it this way; Morocco is not getting involved with Tunisia where the stony path to a more representative government has been paved. Here, in Bahrain, there is a case in which others can get involved,” said the diplomat, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, in apparent reference to the regional showdown over Bahrain.
“That’s why there is a need for the utmost of care. Our message regarding the crisis in Bahrain has had three main elements, as we have constantly been asking for the preservation of stability, for the maintenance of territorial integrity and also for political reforms. This one message with three elements is actually multilayered since there is message for everybody here. While giving this message, we also underlined the need for the swift departure of foreign troops from Bahrain,” the diplomat elaborated.
“Sending messages to every party is a requirement of the responsibility; any other kind of reaction would just be making a fuss, which would only be useful for escalating the showdown in the region. I wish making a fuss could be helpful, then we would do it, but we know that it is not helpful, especially at a time when the entire region is struggling with various troubles,” he remarked.
A written statement released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on March 17 reflects the multilayered message to which the diplomat was referring. “The Kingdom of Bahrain has expressed its readiness to take steps in the direction of economic and political reform, in addition to its call for dialogue,” the ministry said at the time, while expressing regret over the fact that any constructive dialogue between the parties had not yet begun and that the tension had escalated despite all this.
It also said the arrival of Gulf troops was a result of a sovereign decision made by Bahraini authorities, as part of Bahrain’s alliance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but said this move further increased the sensitivity of the situation in Bahrain. “It is extremely worrying that violence between protesters and security forces increased in the aftermath of this deployment,” the statement said.
When asked whether Iran might be feeling uneasy with Turkey’s growing profile in this region, the diplomat said: “Maybe, I can’t know. But they should not be feeling so because we are in constant contact with them, so they must have understood our intentions. We are also encouraging them to play a more constructive regional role.”