Iraq declares it will reconsider ties with Turkey following Kirkuk visit

August 07, 2012, Tuesday/ 20:01:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

The Iraqi government has announced that it has decided to reconsider ties with Turkey after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a surprise visit to an oil-rich Iraqi city claimed by both the central government and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region without first consulting Iraqi authorities.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said in a written statement that the Iraqi cabinet decided to reconsider its ties with Turkey in a meeting on Tuesday as a result of Davutoğlu's visit to Kirkuk and tasked a committee with investigating the impact of the visit. The committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani will soon advise the cabinet on the controversial visit.

The committee will consist of foreign, interior and transportation ministers along with the minister responsible for regions and the intelligence chief.

Davutoğlu has surprised the media and angered the Iraqi government by paying a unannounced visit to Kirkuk last week, where he met with and was warmly greeted by representatives of the Turkmen community, who share close ethnic ties with Turks.

The control of Kirkuk, a city of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, has long been a matter of contention between the Iraqi central government and the Iraqi Kurds, who hope to annex the city into their autonomous region in the north. The city is currently under the control of the Iraqi government. Turkey, too, has long opposed Kurdish rule of Kirkuk, out of concerns that this would encourage separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish population.

Iraqi central authorities, in turn, have accused Turkey of violating laws, saying that the foreign minister had neither asked for nor obtained permission to enter Kirkuk.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk Governor Najm al-Din Omar Karim stated last week following the tension arising from the visit that the foreign minister and his delegation had made visa applications to the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara and that “flight clearance” had also been given by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry prior to the visit.

In addition, President of the Al-Iraqiya coalition's parliamentary bloc Salman Jumaili has said the Baghdad government knew about Davutoglu's visit to Kirkuk.

Turkey has already lashed out at the Iraqi government for its claims.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq's ambassador in Ankara on Friday to protest Baghdad's subsequent statements after Davutoğlu's visit to the city. Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu told the Iraqi envoy that Turkey is taking every step openly and that it has no hidden agenda. Sinirlioğlu warned Iraqi authorities to be careful while making statements.

The Kirkuk spat brought already strained ties between Turkey and Iraq to a new low. Turkey has been hosting Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni vice president, who faces charges of terrorism in his own country. Also to the chagrin of the Iraqi government, Turkey has recently started importing crude oil from northern Iraq under a deal with the Iraqi Kurdish administration. Turkey separately imports oil from Iraq through a twin pipeline that runs from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean oil terminal of Ceyhan.

The Maliki government has slammed Turkey for pursuing “hostile” policies in the region and interfering in Iraqi affairs, while Ankara says Maliki's Shiite-led government is trying to monopolize power by suppressing Sunni Arabs and other groups.

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