Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's harsh criticism of Turkey for what he considered interference in the domestic realm of Iraq is sure to draw the ire of Turkey, as observers have already labeled Maliki's reaction “a regrettable move” that will undermine his capacity to cooperate with neighbors that are hoping for stability in Iraq.
In a televised interview with Alhurra TV on Friday, Maliki slammed Turkey for its “surprise interference” in his country's internal affairs, claiming that Turkey's role could bring disaster and civil war to the region -- something he claimed will make Turkey suffer just the same.
“We ... did not expect the way they [Turkey] interfere in Iraq,” Maliki said in an interview with the Alhurra TV station on Friday, AFP news agency reported on Friday. “And we do not allow that absolutely,” Maliki underlined.
“We recently noticed their surprise interventions with statements, as if Iraq is controlled or run by them,” he said, adding that Turkey's latest statements interfered in domestic Iraqi affairs.
Maliki's remarks came two days after he was warned by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that his actions are taking Iraq away from democracy and urged him to take steps that would reduce tensions in the war-torn country following a series of bombings in the capital of Baghdad after Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi last month.
In a phone call last week held between Erdoğan and Maliki, Erdoğan urged Maliki to take steps to reduce tension in Iraq. Erdoğan stated that transformation of mistrust into animosity toward a coalition partner will negatively affect democracy in Iraq, a veiled warning to the Iraqi prime minister that his latest arrest warrant for Hashimi is a blow to democracy in the war-torn country. Erdoğan previously stated that Turkey was concerned about the possibility of “another fight among brothers in Iraq” and that Iraq was subject to provocations of parties from outside the country, pushing it to a brink of sectarian war. Turkish officials have kept stressing that Iraqi stability, with all its sectarian and ethnic blocs, is needed for peace in the entire region, and petty calculations are not a part of Turkey's foreign policy anywhere in the world.
Although Maliki pledges that he is working to represent all blocs and backgrounds equally, observers doubt that the Iraqi prime minister is doing a satisfactory job and suspicion is rising that his stance in favor of or against any neighbor would undermine his legitimacy in the international arena drastically.
“If it is acceptable to talk about our judicial authority, then we can talk about theirs, and if they talk about our disputes, we can talk about theirs,” Maliki said in the interview, claiming that Turkey is playing a role that might bring disaster and civil war to the region and that Turkey itself will suffer because it has different sects and ethnicities.
“Malki has been reactive against Turkey ever since the Iraqi elections, convinced that Turkey's close ties with his major rival, Iraqiya, pose a threat to his hold on power,” Bilgay Duman, an Iraq expert from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), told Today's Zaman on Sunday. Duman also claimed that Maliki was “all the more unreasonable,” while Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani was in Turkey trying to cultivate stronger cooperation between Turkey and Iran to provide leverage to an immediate solution to the current polarization in Iraq. “Turkey is trying not to engage Iran in a power showdown, but behind the stage observers have the feeling that Iran finds Turkey's moves in the region to be aimed at its benefits,” Duman added, raising the possibility that Maliki's words were motivated by Iranian leadership, “which desperately needs conflict in the region to keep Iranians' attention fixed on the “fabricated danger from the outside.”
With the belief that the turbulence in Iraq is a natural reflection of the vague political moves of Syria and Iran, Alaeddin Yalçınkaya, head of the international relations department at Sakarya University, told Today's Zaman that Maliki has the roots of his power in Iran in a way that excludes other actors of the region for the sake of a sectarian Shiite alliance. “A perspective based on human rights is the way Turkey would like to choose when it deals with Iraq, since upsetting balances in the country would devastate everybody,” Yalçınkaya added, convinced that religious or ethnic alliances would not help Iraqi politics stand in unity after the US pullout.
Meanwhile, many attacks in recent days in Iraq have targeted the country's Shiite majority, increasing fears of a serious outbreak of sectarian violence following the withdrawal of US troops last month.
Large-scale sectarian fighting pushed the country to the verge of civil war in 2006-2007. Well-armed Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias continue to operate in the country, while suicide bombings are becoming increasingly frequent in the country.
The increase in violence comes as Iraq's leaders remain locked in a political crisis that is stoking tensions between the Shiite majority now in power and the country's Sunnis, who benefited most from ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's rule.
The leaders of Iraq's rival sects have been locked in a standoff since last month, when the Shiite-dominated government called for Hashemi's arrest on terrorism charges, just as the last American troops were completing their withdrawal from the country. Hashemi, Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politician, remains holed up in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, out of reach of state security forces. Observers liken Hashemi's reaction to Iran for responsibility of the arrest warrant Maliki bloc issued against him to the reaction Maliki displayed to Turkey when the country warned him to watch out for equal representation and refrain from politicizing his political rivalry with other blocs.
During his phone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Friday, Erdoğan also talked about the latest situation in Iraq, where two leaders agreed that a broad-based and inclusive government is necessary for stability in the country.