Arab League shuns Turkey, Iran on Syria

Arab League shuns Turkey, Iran on Syria

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Arab League shuns Turkey, Iran on Syria

Iraq’s FM Zebari (R) speaks at a conference with the League’s Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs, Ahmad bin Hilly. REUTERS photo

The Arab League has shunned Turkey and Iran for its meeting today in Baghdad over Syria with the seeming intention of distancing itself from Ankara-led aggressive policies against Damascus that prioritize toppling President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Turkey was not invited to the Baghdad meeting even though Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has worked closely with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi since the very early days of the Arab Spring, Turkey has observer status at the body and Ankara has participated in almost every crucial summit held by the 22-country organization.

Though officials have said the meeting was closed to all non-Arab countries, including Turkey and Iran, a senior European Union official will take part in the summit, with the executive secretary-general of the European External Action Service, Pierre Vimont, schedule to represent Brussels at today’s meeting.

There are three main reasons for Turkey’s exclusion from the meeting. The first is the current chilly relationship between Ankara and Baghdad over the latter’s accusations that the Turkish government is seeking to increase its influence in its southern neighbor. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki objected to Turkey’s participation, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

Al-Maliki and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan found themselves at odds earlier this year because Ankara believes al-Maliki is acting as an offshoot of the Iranian administration and provides a link between Tehran and Damascus.

As Iraq assumes the term presidency of the Arab League, the league’s relations with Ankara are likely to become bumpier during this period.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was explicit in expressing his government’s concern over the growing influence of regional powers Turkey and Iran inside Iraq in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“This summit will enhance our position to stand on our feet vis-à-vis these regional powers,” he said, accusing Turkey and Iran of “competing to fill the vacuum in Iraq in the absence of an Iraqi representative, strong, national unity government.”

Arab League went too fast on Syria
The second reason for Turkey’s exclusion from the meeting seems to stem from the Arab League’s intention to distance itself from the policies of Turkey and some Western powers, which are focused on toppling al-Assad.

Divided over the future of al-Assad, the members of the Arab League will likely endorse Kofi Annan’s mission, which has received a positive response from Damascus. The Annan Plan is perceived as being much more realistic than other competing plans in many Arab countries, who are growing increasingly suspicious of the Friends of Syria initiative. Some Arab countries believe the league moved too quickly in demanding that al-Assad leave office – losing some political maneuvering room by doing so. They have also laid part of the blame on al-Arabi for remaining under the influence of Davutoğlu, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Related to these differing positions over Syria, the third reason for Turkey’s exclusion reflects growing concerns about rising Turkish interference in the Arab world’s internal affairs. A good majority of Arab politicians, scholars and journalists suspect that increasing Turkish influence carries with it the motive of glorifying the Ottoman past, something the Turkish diplomatic establishment strongly denies.