Turkey follows Maliki visit to Iran closely as ties strained with Baghdad

April 23, 2012, Monday/ 18:17:00/ GÖZDE NUR DONAT

An official from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Monday Turkey is closely watching Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s official visit to Tehran, which comes after a recent war of words between Maliki and Turkish senior government officials.

“Turkey is closely watching the developments in the region, including the relations between its neighbors,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Maliki’s visit to Tehran is likely to add to the political tension between Ankara and Baghdad, showcased in the row between Turkish officials and Maliki, who has been conducting a sectarian-based policy in cooperation with Iran, according to political experts.

Cenap Çakmak, head of the department of international relations at Eskişehir Osmangazi University, has asserted that Iran’s influence and its sectarian-based policy in the region is one of the main reasons why relations have cooled between Ankara and Baghdad.

“Iran’s backing of Maliki in the region would be to Turkey’s disadvantage. Iran is trying to expand its influence over the region, using sectarian-based foreign policy as an instrument. One of its close allies in that regard is Iraq,” Çakmak said during a phone interview with Today’s Zaman on Monday.

Maliki left for a two-day official visit to Tehran on Sunday, and has held talks with Iranian senior government officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi on Sunday, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s religious leader, on Monday.

“Should Iran and Iraq stand together, there would be no place for the enemies of the people in the region, including the US and Israel,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official Iranian IRNA news agency on Sunday.

Rahimi also claimed on Sunday during Maliki’s visit that “Iran and Iraq are enjoying very special and unbreakable ties,” saying that due to the principles shared by the two governments, there are plots planned against them.

“Full cooperation and integration between Iran and Iraq would constitute a great power on a global scale,” Rahimi also added.

The Iraqi prime minister’s Tehran visit came after a war of words between him and Turkish senior government officials.

Defining Turkey as a hostile state, Maliki accused Turkey in a written statement posted on his website on Friday of 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].”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dismissed Maliki’s accusations, citing a Saturday statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry as the best response and saying he has no intention of adding anything.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that Turkey has never had any intention of intervening in the internal affairs of Iraq or any other neighbor, but Turkey’s main objective has been to maintain good neighborly and friendly relations with all of its neighbors.

The statement stressed that Iraqi politics are currently in crisis and that underlying this crisis is a political approach based on the monopolization of power and the exclusion of all others, instead of an approach based on democratic and universal values.

Analysts have claimed that Maliki is paying lip service to Tehran in constituting a Shiite dictatorship in his country, bolstered by Iran.

“With Maliki’s recent visit, Iran’s background role in the tensions between Maliki and Ankara has been confirmed. As Ankara shows its resolute approach against Maliki’s dictatorship, which excludes all others from political participation, Maliki is trying to hide behind Iranian support, as shown with this visit,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), has said.

Meanwhile, Yunus Demirer, Turkish ambassador to Iraq, was summoned by Iraqi Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Labeed Abbawi on Sunday to hear the Iraqi government’s complaint on the recent Erdoğan and Maliki row.

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