Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has turned down an invitation by his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to pay a visit to Turkey to attend the congress of Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) this weekend.
Speaking during an interview with Iraq's semi-official al-Iraqiya television, Maliki cited another planned foreign visit in his rejection of the invitation, adding that he had written "a letter of thanks" to the Turkish prime minister.
Turkish diplomatic officials confirmed on Wednesday that Maliki had been invited to attend the upcoming party congress of the AK Party, scheduled for Sept. 30.
According to a diplomatic official -- who spoke to Today's Zaman on condition of anonymity -- Maliki was not invited for bilateral talks specifically but was invited to attend the AK Party Congress, with many other important political figures, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, all expected to attend.
In televised remarks aired late on Wednesday, Erdoğan named Morsi and Barzani, as well as Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usama al-Nujaifi and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, as guests of the upcoming congress, slated for Sunday. Speaking hours before Maliki announced his decision not to accept the invitation, Erdoğan said he hoped that the Iraqi prime minister would respond favorably. “I don't want to look at this negatively. I wish he would respond to our invitation positively,” said Erdoğan.
Maliki and Erdoğan have publicly traded insults several times this year as relations have soured.
Both prime ministers have engaged in tit-for-tat accusations in recent months. Erdoğan accused Maliki of amassing his power in Baghdad at the expense of other political groups in the country. Erdoğan also several times blasted his counterpart for hounding political opponents and fomenting sectarian tension in the politically fragile country.
In return, Maliki vehemently criticized the Turkish prime minister for meddling in Iraq's internal affairs.
Relations between Turkey and Iraq have become strained over a number of issues, both political and economic. Most recently, Ankara angered Baghdad by declaring that it would not extradite fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi after he was sentenced to death on charges of running death squads. The two countries are also at odds over a recent deal between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurdish administration allowing the Iraqi Kurds to export oil and gas through Turkey.
As a sign of the willingness to renew political relations with Iraq, the undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, has invited his Iraqi counterpart, Labid Abbawi, to Turkey for talks, and expressed the Turkish position in regards to the current state of affairs and the future of Turkish-Iraqi relations, the ministry announced in a statement on Sept. 17.
Although this invitation was made by the Turkish side to improve relations with its neighbor, Iraq has not responded as of yet.
Among other factors that deepened tensions between Turkey and Iraq is Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's controversial visit to Kirkuk.
The civil war in Syria has taken its toll on Turkish-Iraqi ties as well. Maliki, known to be close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally Iran, has taken a more muted stance on Syria.