Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has added fuel to an escalating war of words between Turkey and Iraq by slamming his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, over his remarks in which he said Turkey is becoming a hostile state in the region due to its policies, noting that Turkey still has brotherly relations with all sects and ethnicities in Iraq despite Maliki's enmity toward Turkey.
“Maliki's attitude cannot damage our relations with our Iraqi brothers,” Erdoğan said upon his return from Qatar on Saturday.
In a written press statement on Friday, Maliki accused Turkey of becoming a hostile state, engaging in “unjustified interferences in Iraqi internal affairs,” “still… dreaming [of] controlling the region” and of becoming “an aggressive state for all [in the region].”
Erdoğan cited a statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry as the best response to Maliki and said he has no intention of adding anything.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that not only has Turkey never had any intention of intervening in the internal affairs of Iraq or any other neighbor, but maintaining good neighborly and friendly relations with all its neighbors has been Turkey's main objective.
The statement stressed that Iraqi politics is currently in an atmosphere of crisis and that underlying this crisis is the political approach based on the monopolization of power and the exclusion of all others, instead of a politics based on democratic and universal values. It also added that underlying the misperception that has led Prime Minister Maliki to blame Turkey as the cause of the political crisis that Iraq is this wrong political approach.
When asked to comment on Maliki's statements, Erdoğan said “if we respond to him, we give him the opportunity to show off there. There is no need to allow him to gain prestige.”
Erdoğan said a stable political system in Iraq with the equal voice of all sects and ethnicities is all that Turkey aspires for in Iraq and that even Shiite groups “are fed up with” the Shiite prime minister's sectarian-based politics in Iraq.
“Shiites in Iraq that I am in contact with also complain about Maliki's rule. One of the Shiite leaders in the country, I won't give his name, has made a statement to me, saying, 'Maliki has surmounted Saddam Hussein in dictatorship'," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan said Turkey has always embraced all Iraqis and stood next to them, adding that Sunni, Shiite, Arab or Kurd, these are all equal for Turkey and that all of them are Turkey's brothers. He said Maliki should know that his attitude could not drive a wedge between Turkey and “our Iraqi brothers.”
Maliki's harsh remarks against Turkey came at a time when Turkey was hosting two senior Iraqi politicians who are at odds with his government. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani arrived in Turkey for a two-day visit on Thursday and Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is currently in İstanbul.
Maliki's statement was prompted by Erdoğan's accusation last week that the Iraqi prime minister was pursuing “self-centered” policies against his coalition partners. He said these policies “seriously bother Barzani, the cross-sectarian Iraqiya group and Shiite groups” in Iraq after having talks with the Kurdish leader.
Barzani, who arrived in Turkey on Thursday, has closed-door talks with senior government officials, including Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and also with Hashemi.
Hashemi, for whom the Maliki-led central government issued an arrest warrant on charges of running death squads in late 2011, is on a tour of regional countries that also have a problem with Maliki, seeking political support. He arrived in Turkey last week after visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Before April, Hashemi was seeking refuge in Arbil, the capital of the KRG, to avoid prosecution at the hands of the Baghdad government. Barzani's refusal to hand over the Sunni vice president has deepened already existing divisions with the central government of Maliki, basically arising from sharing economic and political power.
During the visit to Turkey, Barzani said Maliki was holding power in one hand despite the constitution and balance of power being clear on the matter. “Iraq is for all of us. The political tension in Iraq must be solved according to the existing constitutional order. The share of money and power is clear in the constitution. Baghdad is slow in transferring funds to the KRG and the amount is often too low," Barzani said.
Associate Professor Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), said Maliki's critical stance towards Turkey marks the advent of Sunni-Shiite tension, which is becoming the main issue in the region, in an implicit rivalry between Turkey and Iran, during a phone interview with Today's Zaman on Sunday.
“Maliki is paying lip-service to Iran, which is trying to implement Shiite political dominance in the region. The underlying reason behind Maliki's recent enmity to Turkey is his alliance with Iran,” Erol said.
Maliki is currently on an official visit to Iran, whose relations with Turkey are also strained due to the crisis in Syria. Iran is a staunch supporter of Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad, whose troops have killed thousands of civilians since last March in the Arab Spring's most bloody uprising.
Erol said Turkey is the common voice of all ethnic and sectarian identities in Iraq but added that Turkey is currently being dragged into protecting Sunni political rights in the region to contain Iran's Shiite-based politics, which are supported by Iraq.
He added that the Kurdish problem arising from the Middle East due to the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq is losing its significance as a result of current political dialogue with Barzani, and giving way to a Sunni-Shiite problem.
Iraq seizes Turkish military aircraft
Amid the recent row between Erdoğan and Maliki in a sign of growing tensions between Turkey and Iraq, Iraqi military authorities seized a Turkish military aircraft after it landed in Mosul province, citing a violation of the country's airspace as the plane entered without first securing permission.
The aircraft was carrying an armored car that belongs to a Turkish consulate-general in Iraq, Turkish Foreign Ministry sources confirmed.
After inspecting the aircraft, Iraqi authorities allowed it to return to Turkey, the Turkish Vatan daily reported on Sunday.
According to Vatan, an Iraqi official said the country has begun a full investigation into how the aircraft managed to enter Iraqi airspace without first being noticed by Iraq's air defense system.
An official from the Foreign Ministry told Today's Zaman that the Turkish consulate-general had sent a delivery note to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry before the aircraft landed, but by the time the aircraft entered Iraq, the note had not been received by the Iraqi ministry.
“This was a procedural error, but Iraqi media represented the event as an intentional Turkish violation of Iraqi airspace,” the Turkish official said.
Turkey considers Arab nations as its friends, neighbor
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkey considers Arab nations as its friends and neighbors during a Turkish-Arab Tourism Meeting in the northwestern province of Bursa on Sunday. Erdoğan said that even though Turkey was known as a country that had turned its face to the West, it had not turned its back to the East or South, and would never do so. “We [Turkey] believe that the distances, borders, obstacles and barriers put between Turks and Arabs over the last century are just artificial,” said Erdoğan. “As we have done for 600 years, we consider Arab nations as our brothers, friends and neighbors, both in the good times and tough times,” Erdoğan added. Erdoğan said Turkey’s sole aim was peace, prosperity and brotherhood in the region and added that Turkey only had a humanitarian perspective on regional issues.
The prime minister added that his government has established a different type of communication and cooperation with the Arab nations over the last nine and a half years. Erdogan said Turkey was making efforts to ensure development, prosperity and order in the entire region. Moreover, he said the number of Arab tourists to Turkey had increased in recent years, and Turkey’s tourism revenues had increased to $23 billion, with a total of 31.5 million tourists visiting in 2011. Touching upon visa procedures, Erdoğan said Turkey had simplified visa procedures with many countries in the last nine and a half years. After the meeting, Erdoğan is scheduled to attend the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) provincial congress. Erdoğan is also set to visit Bursa Governor Sahabettin Harput in his office. Ankara Today’s Zaman