16 April 2014, Wednesday
Today's Zaman

Hashemi seeks Turkish support against Maliki’s Shiite dominance in Iraq

10 April 2012, Tuesday /SİNEM CENGİZ
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, has arrived in Turkey to secure Ankara’s help against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s policy of excluding Sunni politicians from power.

He arrived in Turkey on a private jet from Qatar’s capital of Doha on Monday.

The state-run Anatolia news agency provided no further details on the visit. Iraqi sources close to Hashemi said, “The vice president’s visit to Turkey is not about seeking ‘shelter’ from Iraq,” adding that “the [duration of the] visit to Turkey will be less than a week.”

A statement made by Hashemi’s office on Tuesday stated that Hashemi is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior officials after their return from their official visit to China. It is expected that the talks will focus on the latest situation in the region. After the visit, reports state that Hashemi is hoping to return to his temporary residence in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Associate Professor Atilla Sandıklı, head of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM) research center, told Today’s Zaman that Hashemi’s visit is of great importance in finding a compromise to the situation in Iraq.

“Shiite-Sunni tension is the main issue in the region; therefore, the situation in Iraq concerns Turkey. The Sunni countries, including Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are trying to contain Iran’s influence on other countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” said Sandıklı.

Sandıklı also claimed that the risks associated with the Shiite-Sunni tension are expected to be discussed during Hashemi’s visit. “If the Shiite government in Iraq continues to exclude the Sunnis in the country, this may lead to partition demands from the Sunnis and Kurds, which is a big risk for the region, particularly for Syria.”

Hashemi is being accused of running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, officials and security forces. He denies the charges, which he says are “politically motivated.” Prior to Turkey, Hashemi was in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia in what his office described as a regional tour. Hashemi’s arrival in Saudi Arabia as a pilgrim was seen as less inflammatory in Baghdad than his visit to Qatar, which was made in the position of a visiting political leader. The Qatar visit marks Hashemi’s first official foreign trip since he fled to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region to avoid an arrest warrant issued in December. The arrest warrant for what Hashemi described as trumped-up charges could very well stoke tensions between Baghdad’s Shiite-led government and Sunni monarchies of the Gulf.

Hashemi met with top officials in Qatar, including Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who is also the minister of foreign affairs. Qatar’s acceptance of Hashemi sparked a wave of criticism from Iraq, which denounced Qatar’s actions as “unacceptable” and demanded the handover of Hashemi. Qatar rejected Baghdad’s demand to hand over Hashemi, saying that there is no court verdict against Hashemi and that he still holds an official government position.

Qatar, whose profile has recently been rising in Middle East politics, protested Baghdad’s treatment of Iraq’s Sunni minority by sending a mid-level official to an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week. Other Sunni-led Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, also protested Iraq by sending lower-level officials. Kuwait’s emir was the only Gulf leader to attend as a high-level official.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who views the Iraqi government as being a close ally of Iran, have voiced concern for Sunni interests in Iraq under Maliki’s government.

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