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POLITICS > Ankara sees Iran hand in Iraq tensions

Serkan Demirtaş ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey believes Tehran is behind the Iraqi PM’s recent challenge to Vice President al-Hashimi as it hopes to protect its regional hegemony in the wake of an international campaign against its closest regional ally, Syria.

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Iraqi women mourn at a funeral of a victim
who was killed in one of bombings. REUTERS photo

Iraqi women mourn at a funeral of a victim who was killed in one of bombings. REUTERS photo

Serkan Demirtaş Serkan Demirtaş serkan.demirtas@hdn.com.tr

An Iraqi political crisis stemming from the Shiite prime minister’s move against the Sunni vice president has rung alarm bells in Ankara, which believes Iran is orchestrating the events to protect its regional hegemony.

Although already deeply involved in the turmoil in Syria, Turkish diplomats have now placed Iraq at the top of their agenda out of fears that instability in its southeastern neighbor could endanger its political and security interests in the region.

A day after the last U.S. soldier was withdrawn from Iraq earlier this week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, potentially igniting a fresh conflict between the country’s two largest sectarian groups. The move caused concerns in neighboring countries and the United States about regional stability in the Middle East, which has already been shaken by developments in Syria.

“Iran has obviously taken its gloves off,” a senior government official told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday in an obvious hint that Tehran was behind al-Maliki’s move. For Ankara, Tehran is trying to protect its Shiite hegemony in the region especially at a time when its closest ally, Syria is under intense international pressure.

US was warned

“We told the Americans that this could happen. But they did not listen to us,” the official said.
Al-Maliki formed a government after months of negotiations even though the Sunni Iraqiya bloc placed first in the 2010 elections. While Washington backed al-Maliki to form the government, Turkey called on the U.S. to permit a Sunni-led government.

Al-Maliki openly targeted Turkey in a recent interview as the biggest potential danger to Iraq’s stability in the post-withdrawal period.

“We openly backed al-Maliki in the 2009 local elections, showing we have no opposition to any Iraqi leader. We emphasized that all politicians in Iraq should avoid making politics based on their sects,” the official said.

According to Ankara, al-Maliki’s move, which consolidated his power in the country, made it impossible for al-Hashemi to return to his previous job. Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government leader Masoud Barzani’s protection of al-Hashemi, who fled to Arbil, coupled with al-Maliki’s challenge to the Iraqi Kurd leader, is another aspect fueling Ankara’s concerns for the stability of Iraq.

The fact that al-Maliki fully controls the Iraqi army strengthens his position, according to some.
What happens next?

After al-Maliki’s move, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called on several regional leaders, including Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and al-Hashemi, to enter dialogue on the developments.

Ankara believes it would be better for al-Hashemi to stay in Iraq, but could consider giving him refuge in Turkey if his safety becomes an issue.

Turkey has also called on Washington to impose more pressure on al-Maliki to prevent the emergence of a sectarian conflict in the country. “The Americans should be aware that if not stopped, this trend will lead to the partition of Iraq,” a government official said.

December/23/2011

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