In a telephone conversation late on Tuesday, Erdoğan told Maliki 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 Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is a blow to democracy in the war-torn country. 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 brink of civil war in 2006-2007. Well-armed Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias continue to operate 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 Hashimi's arrest on terrorism charges, just as the last American troops were completing their withdrawal from the country. Hashimi, Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politician, remains holed up in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, out of reach of state security forces.
Erdoğan told Maliki that he is concerned over the situation in Iraq and warned that ethnic and sectarian polarization in Iraq might turn into what he called “irreversible chaos,” state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday. He also stressed during the conversation that Maliki has an important responsibility as prime minister to show restraint and commonsense among coalition partners, adding that there is a need for steps to reduce tensions with respect to the Hashimi probe.
The Turkish prime minister, in a speech to his deputies earlier in the day, also urged Iraq's leaders to ease sectarian tensions. He said they would be held responsible for bloodshed in the event of a civil war. Erdoğan said Iraqi leaders who pave the way for a sectarian conflict would be “condemned to be remembered as the devil.”