Erdoğan urges common sense in Iraq but says current picture is not promising

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke at the AK Party group meeting on Tuesday. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

January 10, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:01:00

A sectarian perspective in Iraq is turning the country into a pool of blood, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said with regard to the direction Iraq might be heading after the US pullout, as he announced that he would speak with Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday upon Maliki's request to discuss what is happening in Iraqi politics.

“The only thing we do not want to see in Iraq is another fight among brothers,” Erdoğan was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as saying at a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) group meeting on Tuesday. Expressing concern about provocations in Iraq that could lead to a clash between Sunni and Shiite sects, Erdoğan said he was worried that the “political will in Iraq does not take steps to block the bloodshed” but instead “maintains an attitude that could escalate the tension and add fuel to discrimination on ethnic and sectarian grounds.”

In a very clear reference to an arrest order Maliki issued for the top Sunni politician in Iraq, also a close political partner of Turkey, Tariq al-Hashemi, Erdoğan noted that he was not optimistic about the future of Iraq after “seeing an attitude in Iraqi politics that lays siege on its own coalition partners' house with tanks, with armed vehicles.” The arrest warrant for Hashemi brought a clamp down by Iraqi forces on Hashemi's house, as the Sunni vice president fled Baghdad in fear for his safety to the semiautonomous Kurdish administration in the north, triggering a wave of armed and peaceful reactions against the Shiite bloc for allegedly framing Sunni politicians to remove them from the scene.

“We cannot interpret this [the armed crack down at Hashemi's house] as a signal that they [Maliki] really want peace or they are preparing a bright future for Iraq,” Erdoğan added. He noted that Maliki requested a phone conversation with him and that the conversation was scheduled for Tuesday, but no information was made public with regards to their discussion by the time Today's Zaman went to press on Monday.

“Whether they are Shiites or Sunnis that are feeding a partition in Iraq along sectarian lines, they will be doomed to be remembered as Yezid,” he said, asserting that regardless of their sectarian camps, those who instigate chaos in Iraq will go down in history as “devils.” Erdoğan incidentally laid the responsibility for the deaths within the past month on the current Iraqi administration, highlighting frequently that the “Iraqi administration has a major, historic responsibility” to make sure the country reunites peacefully, or it will be responsible “for every drop of blood” in the country.

In what appeared to be a veiled message targeting Iran, Erdoğan warned that all groups in Iraq should act with common sense and urged “all countries that have been trying to exert influence on Iraq” to be prudent and act responsibly. The media has speculated that Iran is responsible for the recent collapse in the Iraqi parliament with Iran flexing its political muscle in Iraqi politics through Prime Minister Maliki, the most influential Shiite leader in the country. Turkey and Iran are trade partners and major powers in the region, but a decrease in Shiite strength in regional administrations is sure to isolate Iran and damage its political influence in the region.

Erdoğan also suggested that “the US could have stayed in Iraq until a democratic system was firmly established,” Anatolia reported on Monday. The Turkish leader also noted that the process that unfolded after the US pullout was “expected” and the departure of US forces from Baghdad triggered the bloodshed, a warning he said he conveyed to US officials, including President Barack Obama.

Commenting on developments in Iran's sole Arabic ally in the region, Syria, Erdoğan said that Turkey was concerned both for Iraq and for Syria, a country that is “moving towards a civil war based on religion, sect and race,” Reuters reported on Monday. Erdoğan noted that Turkey “has to prevent a civil war in Syria” by assuming a leading role regarding the country because “a civil war would present an imminent threat to Turkey,” Syria's immediate neighbor across the almost 1000 kilometer borderline.

Although Erdoğan said Turkey, a NATO member country, would assume the major role in averting a civil war in Syria, he did not elaborate on how the country would do that. Turkey for months rejected foreign intervention in Syria and said it would seek UN backing to act on the Syrian case but preferred initiatives from the Arab League to solve the issue before that happened.

On the Syrian side, President Bashar al-Assad spoke on Tuesday for the first time after more than six months of public silence, but the change expected to come about in his stance toward protestors was not there. Assad blamed the months-long uprising, which has resulted in around 6,000 casualties, on “foreign planning” and repeated that he would strike “the terrorists with an iron fist,” Reuters reported.

What is new is that Assad seems to be warming to the idea of including all political forces in Syria in the government and to the possibility of holding a referendum in March on a new constitution. An Arab League inspection team of more than a hundred experts also announced they did not witness a radical change in Assad's system of handling the revolts, but he was partially implementing his pledges. “There is no tolerance for terrorism or for those who use weapons to kill,” Assad was quoted as saying by Reuters.


Brotherly people of Algeria know what Turkey means, Erdoğan says

Following criticism from Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia against the Turkish prime minister for “capitalizing on Algerian blood” by referring to the French killing of Algerians as part of Turkey's own showdown with France, Erdoğan stated that Algerians knew Turkey was trying to protect them and gave an adequate response to Ouyahia themselves.

Recalling Ouyahia's discomfort with Turkey's bringing up the issue of French atrocities against Algerians during its colonial period as “a genocide that went unanswered,” Erdoğan stated on Tuesday that “the brotherly people of Algeria know what we meant to say.” Addressing his fellow lawmakers at a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) group gathering, Erdoğan said he “saw no need to start an argument,” since Ouyahia's opposition, as well as coalition members of the same government, “responded immediately and delivered the necessary response,” Anatolia reported.

Replying to Ouyahia's remarks over the weekend, urging Turkey to drop claims of a French genocide against Algerians, major Algerian political parties issued statements and made announcements condemning Ouyahia's words and accusing him of “serving the French.” Some of these thanked Turkey for trying “to bring back a memory that is lost to the current administration of Algeria” and to be the voice of Algerians “for a rightful cause,” while some others targeted Ouyahia's policies and questioned his capacity as a prime minister to represent the people of Algeria.

Erdoğan also expressed the belief that “the prioritized duty of administrators is to reflect the feelings of their people” and concluded his speech by saying, “Turkey's sincerest regards and support to the brotherly people of Algeria.”

Erdoğan's words concerning the French genocide in Algeria and Rwanda came after the French lower house vote to penalize those who deny that the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks is genocide. The French Senate is going to debate the bill on Jan. 23 and decide whether to drop it or pass it as a law. Ankara Today's Zaman

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