Fugitive Iraqi Vice President asks for Turkey's support
Put in a bind by an arrest warrant issued immediately after the US pullout from Iraq last week, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has asked for Turkey's support to counter "unfounded allegations" against the Iraqi Sunni bloc and help Iraq stabilize before the country plunges into sectarian chaos one more time, a Turkish daily reported on Sunday.
"This is Turkey's destiny. Being a major player in the Middle East, Turkey needs to watch out for the people of Iraq," Hashemi was quoted as saying in an interview with the Milliyet daily, almost a week after an arrest order was issued against the country's top Sunni official on charges of running a hit squad to eliminate rivals and security officials, allegations he dismissed as being unfounded and "politically motivated."
Expressing concern over the escalating tension in Iraq after the US pullout, Hashemi claimed that the warrant was part of a plot by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was looking to "hoard power in his Shiite bloc" and receiving help from Iran to sideline the Sunni bloc, led by the coalition partner al-Iraqiyya, in the country, Today's Zaman reported.
"Since it is losing blood in Syria, Iran is trying to tighten its grip over Iraq to make up for that loss," Hashemi further claimed, as he advocated that Iran was intervening in Iraq and steering the domestic climate, and Turkey should watch out for the people of Iraq to help stabilize Iraq's position as a constitutional state with power shared equally between blocs.
In response to the recent controversy arising out of the Hashemi arrest warrant, which was accompanied a few days later with multiple bombings in Baghdad that killed dozens of people, Ankara said it was following Iraqi developments with great attention and was concerned over the loss of life that seemed to be an "abuse" of the current political atmosphere in the country. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, while noting that Ankara would welcome Hashemi if he desired to visit the country, stressed that it would be better for the top Sunni official to remain inside Iraq, in fear that leaving the country due to political pressure would cause the opposition to leave one after the other, disrupting a healthy democracy in Iraq.
"All we are trying to do in the region right now is to prevent the circumstances of another Cold War all over again," Davutoğlu told the Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) channel over the weekend, as he expressed concern that the already fragile stability in the region would receive another blow if Iraq descends into a sectarian-based conflict. Davutoğlu also expressed his belief that Hashemi "would not take part in a terrorist plot," he nevertheless stated that a clarification of "such serious allegations" was urgently needed.
Having fled Baghdad following the arrest warrant, Hashimi is now based in Sulaimaniya, where he is staying as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Following the emergence of the allegations in the media, Talabani had requested that the conflict be dealt with silently and within the country so as to not allow chaos to reign over Iraq once more. Following the allegations, Hashemi spoke from Arbil last week and asked to be tried by the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country, as he accused the Baghdad judiciary of being "under the influence of the government." Hashemi also urged the Kurdish administration not to turn him in, as Maliki demanded last week, but so far the Kurdish administration has kept him safe and free in its territories. Hashemi further alleged that "Kurdish officials would be the next targets" in Maliki's alleged plans to establish his "autocratic" rule in Iraq.
Back in 2003 when ironfisted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was toppled by a US intervention in the country, Iraq went through a period of almost no governance and gradually sank into sectarian strife a few years later, where thousands of people were killed every month. The US tried for nine years to come up with an Iraqi government that reflected an equal share of power between blocs, but Hashemi speculated that Shiite leader Maliki has been "plotting for a long time" to kick opposition powers to the curb once the US left Iraq. Following the order for Hashemi's arrest, which Hashemi labels a "Maliki initiative," the Shiite prime minister asked parliament to fire his Sunni deputy prime minister, the second most senior Sunni politician in the administration, Reuters reported on Saturday. The Sunni official further accused Maliki of trying to establish "one-man rule" in Iraq, and said he was trying to get rid of influential opposition names to that end.
"Today Iraqis live in an atmosphere of sectarian tension as we lived through in the hard years of 2005-2007," Hashemi told Reuters in an interview, as he warned that the consequences of Maliki's alleged plot would affect the sectarian balance in the country. "Mr. Maliki knows the supporters of Tareq al-Hashemi and which community he belongs to, and therefore, he should have thought about the negative consequences of these issues," Hashemi said in words that Maliki's politically motivated moves against top Sunni officials would find its echoes in the streets of Baghdad, which was painted with blood last week in a scene that reminded Iraqis of the sectarian conflicts of the very recent past.
With regards to the foreign interventions in the Arab Spring region, Hashemi also criticized the foreign belief that toppling dictators would be enough to restore peace in the countries, underlining that the real difficulty laid with the "second phase" of transition, which he said was forming a democratic government in those countries, "a phase that has utterly failed in Iraq."
Although Hashemi stated that it would be very difficult for neighboring countries to help the Iraqi people stabilize after the Hussein reign, he warned that "continuous instability in Iraq would eventually affect Turkey" and that the country must help Iraqis to avert the possibility of increased power in the hands of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or emergence of "Iranian plots against Turkey," Milliyet reported. "We trust Turkey. We need support to stand up against the intervention of neighboring countries," as Hashemi called on Turkey with reference to an alleged Iranian intervention in domestic Iraqi politics, steering the environment in favor of the Shiite government.
Turkey has been battling PKK terrorism for more than three decades and has lost tens of thousands of people, mostly security personnel and engages in constant contact with Iraqi officials to combat PKK terrorism. The PKK traditionally launches its attacks from bases inside northern Iraq by crossing through the mountainous border zone between Iraq and Turkey, causing uneasiness in Ankara with regards to the possibility of more freedom and strength in the hands of PKK terrorists following the political vacuum in the country.
US officials comforted Turkey ahead of the pullout, saying no vacuum would come into being in Iraq, and that the country would remain stable after their forces leave the country, blocking the possibility of the emergence of chaos in the country.
"If any state head comes to Turkey and requests asylum or makes any other similar request, Turkish tradition requires us not to turn that request down," Davutoğlu further noted as he recalled that Saddam Hussein and his family were offered shelter in Turkey to "save Iraq from a disaster," and every other state head would receive "the same welcome once they enter Turkish soil."