Iraq summons Turkish envoy as tensions deepen

Iraq summons Turkish envoy as tensions deepen

Iraqi PM Maliki slammed Turkey, which alerted Iraq to a potential sectarian crisis, for allegedly intervening in the country’s internal affairs. (Photo: AP)

January 16, 2012, Monday/ 13:42:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Turkey seems to have hit a snag with the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite bloc, as the deputy foreign minister on Monday summoned the Turkish envoy to express the government's irritation with Turkey's warnings to Iraq of a possible crisis.

Iraq's deputy foreign minister summoned the Turkish envoy in Baghdad, Yunus Demirer, to call on Turkey to consider the "necessity of avoiding anything that might disturb" Iraq's good relations with Turkey, Reuters reported on Monday. The Iraqi foreign ministry also announced that Demirer assured them of the good intentions of Turkish officials and that he would touch base with Ankara to notify them of Iraq's concerns.

The summons came a few days after Maliki slammed Turkey for allegedly interfering in its domestic issues as if Iraq was run by Turkey, words that cut through the already chilly atmosphere between the Maliki bloc and Turkish officials, who until Monday's incident had refrained from a harsh response.

Maliki's outburst at Turkey over the weekend targeted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comments last week, when he urged the Iraqi government to get the fallout from the US withdrawal under control before an apparent polarization leads the country into crisis. Erdoğan also laid what he described as a “historic responsibility” on the Iraqi government to keep the country together, saying those who would be responsible for a partition in Iraq would go down in history as devils, regardless of their sectarian or ethnic background.

Erdoğan's warnings followed a series of political conflicts in Iraq, which saw an arrest warrant issued for Iraq's most senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and a number of similar incidents that tried to push Sunni officials out of office in the coalition government.

The Sunni officials, who feel threatened as their houses get blockaded by tanks for what they call politically motivated accusations, also contacted Turkish officials in hopes of support in averting a sectarian clash in the country.

Hashemi, who is currently hiding out in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region to dodge the arrest warrant, repeated his claim on Monday in an interview with the Anatolia news agency that the law in Baghdad was controlled by certain forces. “I feel indebted to the prime minister for his comments regarding my cause,” Hashemi said, words of gratitude for Erdoğan, who urged  Maliki in a phone call to take steps to reduce the tension and make sure his rivalry with other blocs does not turn into a political vendetta. Turkey has repeated on several occasions that it dismisses sectarian or ethnic differences in its approach to the Middle East, stressing that it seeks a comprehensive approach that would include strong ties with all blocs.

Turkey responded by summoning Iraq's envoy to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, a diplomatic source told Reuters.  

Turkey responded by summoning Iraq's envoy to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.  

Diplomatic sources said Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu conveyed to the Iraqi ambassador that criticisms by Iraqi prime minister that Turkey is interfering in Iraq’s domestic affairs is “unacceptable,” and that it is absolutely normal that Turkey is closely interested in the stability of its neighbor, state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Sinirlioğlu told the ambassador that Turkey urged Iraq that respect to constitutional order and functioning democracy is vital for stability in Iraq but that does not mean Turkey is interfering into Iraq’s internal affairs.

Sinirlioğlu also reportedly stressed the importance of relations between the two countries.

However, after Maliki’s harsh remarks on Erdoğan’s call for solidarity in Iraq, deputy chairperson of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Ömer Çelik lashed out at Maliki through Twitter, saying, “Turkey has no problems with Iraq, but Iraq now apparently has a serious Maliki problem.”

“When Maliki dares threaten Turkey through the media, he does not see he is losing his credibility with the Iraqis,” Çelik tweeted on Monday, as he accused the Iraqi prime minister of wanting to turn his country into a “satellite state” based on the rule of one sect. His words clearly carried a message to neighboring countries, specifically Iran, which allegedly seeks a stronger Shiite dominance in Iraq at the expense of peace in the country’s multiethnic and multi-sect structure. “This starts with sending tanks to your own ministers and could even go up to supplying fuel for [Syrian leader Bashar al-] Assad’s tanks,” Çelik said, elaborating on his words that Iraq might be turning into a tool for a Shiite dominance in the region.

Although Turkey remains in close contact with Iranian officials over peace in Iraq, their common and immediate neighbor, it seeks to be a mediator in the Middle East, where Sunni and Shiite blocs represented fiercely by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, vie for more influence.

Regarding Turkey’s mediating role in the region, Hashemi claimed Turkey stood up for peace in Iraq when he told Erdoğan that Maliki was trying to corner him and besiege him with armed vehicle and tanks, and all Iraqi politicians were under the same threat.

Last week, Erdoğan said in a televised speech the prospect of equal representation emerging out of the Maliki government looked dim, given the fact that he was laying siege to the houses of fellow politicians and intimidating their families.

Erdoğan and other Turkish senior officials also remain in touch with US officials regarding Iraq, as news of explosions and attacks targeting Shiite neighborhoods pile on every day, increasing the civilian death toll in the country to hundreds following the US pullout in early December. “The US should have stayed longer, I also expressed this view to their officials,” Erdoğan said at his party’s group meeting in early January, concerned that without the buffer of US troops in the country, separate Iraqi blocs will fall under the influence of other regional actors and face partition in the long run. “Turkey’s security lies at stake in the face of Iraq’s instability, we know that,” Hashemi also said, suggesting that a partition in Iraq would affect the entire region rather than the future of a single country.

Servet Yanatma and Ceren Kumova contributed to the report from Ankara.

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