Turkey and Iran in talks on post-election Iraq

Turkey and Iran in talks on post-election Iraq

Davutoğlu (L) met with his Spanish and Serbian counterparts, Moratinos (R) and Jeremic, in Belgrade on Tuesday.

April 22, 2010, Thursday/ 17:47:00
Turkey and Iran, two major powerhouses in the region with significant clout over Iraqi domestic politics, have been trying to reconcile their differences to bolster post-election Iraqi unity, diplomatic sources have told Today's Zaman. It may very well have been overshadowed by Iran's nuclear program, which has topped the international agenda in recent weeks, but the question of what will happen in Iraq after the general elections was the second most important issue on the Turkish foreign minister's to-do list when he visited Tehran on Tuesday to have a series of talks with the Iranian leadership, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Iraq was the second most important item in our conversations with the Iranian leadership,” Ahmet Davutoğlu told Today's Zaman after wrapping up his talks with Iranian officials.

In the joint press conference with his counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, on Tuesday, Davutoglu said, “The most important development in the region has to do with the elections in Iraq, the post-election status and efforts to form a government in Iraq.”

The message that all political groups in the country need to be engaged in setting up a new government was received well in Tehran’s power circles. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Turkey has correctly read what is really happening in Iraq, in a meeting with the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday, adding, “We believe that all elected groups in the Iraqi parliament [should] be involved [in ruling the country].”

Thanks to Turkey’s persistent policy in engaging all groups in Iraq, the country’s bitter Sunnis have become a part of the political system in Iraq today, paving the way for the withdrawal of US troops. Ankara brought major Sunni opposition figures and US envoys together to ensure Sunni participation in Iraq’s national elections on June 30, 2005. For example, Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni leader and vice president of Iraq, has met with former US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in İstanbul in another initiative aimed at involving all groups in the political process.

Al-Hashemi was in Ankara earlier this week, holding talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. Speaking to Today’s Zaman on Tuesday after his talks, al-Hashemi accused Iran of interfering in Iraqi efforts to form a government following the March 7 elections and warned that its attempts to create a Shiite-dominated coalition, backed by the Kurds, would lead to sectarian clashes, similar to those that erupted after Iraq’s 2005 elections.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) met with top Iranian officials in Tehran, including his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki.

Officials from the two Shiite-dominated groups -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance and the Iraqi National Alliance -- have met with Iranian officials in Tehran in what appears to be an Iranian effort to unite the two parties in a coalition, preferably backed by the Kurdistan Alliance. The visits of the two Shiite blocs to Tehran were on the occasion of Nevruz celebrations, according to official statements.

But al-Hashemi sees the meetings in Tehran as an attempt to create an alternative Shiite alliance to block his al-Iraqiya’s path to government although it won most votes in the election. “These Nevruz meetings seriously disturbed us,” he told Today’s Zaman in İstanbul. “If the scenario debated at those meetings is implemented, that is, if we see a coalition of the State of Law Alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance, the results will be very dangerous. Then we will have a sectarian government,” he added. “We may then return to those days when people were killed because of their sectarian identity.”

Turkish officials worry that protracted negotiations on forming a government in Iraq since the March 7 national parliamentary elections have increased the risk of heightened sectarian violence. Lengthy coalition talks after Iraq’s last election in December 2005 saw the country plunge into a bloody war.

Turkish policy makers believe all three major groups in Iraqi national politics should be able to draw lessons from the outcome of elections.

“Sunnis should come to grips with the fact that they no longer rule the country alone and ought to keep committed to the process of building Iraq. Shiites, though they are the majority in the country, should realize they too can’t govern the country by excluding Sunnis and Kurds. Kurds should shy away from showing huge greed and grand ambitions,” one senior diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Ankara had in the past privately warned Iranian officials that there was a thin line between helping Iraq to solidify its democratic institution and meddling in the domestic affairs of the country. It is no secret that most Arab countries in the Middle East with large Sunni populations are feeling uneasy over the prospect of Shiite-ruled Iraq and afraid the new Iraq may shift the precarious balance in the region into disarray.

In the press conference with Mottaki, Davutoğlu publicly reiterated that “Iraq’s establishment of internal stability and the support of its neighbors without interfering in Iraq’s domestic issues are crucial for a strong regional atmosphere,” stressing that Iraq is an important friend and neighbor of both Turkey and Iran.

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