Iraq decides to ‘reconsider ties’ with Turkey after Davutoğlu’s Kirkuk visit

Iraq decides to ‘reconsider ties’ with Turkey after Davutoğlu’s Kirkuk visit

Iraq says it has decided to reconsider its relations with Turkey after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a surprise visit to an oil-rich Iraqi city claimed by both the central government and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region without consulting the Iraqi authorities first, Today's Zaman reported.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said in a written statement that the Iraqi cabinet decided to reconsider its ties with Turkey in its meeting on Tuesday as a result of Davutoğlu's visit to Kirkuk and tasked a committee with investigating the impact of the visit. The committee, headed by deputy Prime Minister Hussein Sheristani, will advise the Cabinet on the controversial visit soon.

The committee will consist of foreign, interior, transportation ministers along with state minister responsible for regions and the intelligence chief.

Turkey earlier lashed out at the Iraqi government for criticizing Ankara for interference in Iraqi affairs after Davutoğlu paid a surprise visit to the contested Iraqi city.

Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Iraq's Ambassador in Ankara on Friday to protest Baghdad's subsequent statements after Davutoğlu's visit to the city. Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu told the Iraqi envoy that Turkey is taking every step in an open way and that it has no hidden agenda. Sinirlioğlu warned Iraqi authorities to be careful while making statements.

Turkey's protest came after Iraq delivered a formal diplomatic note to Turkey's envoy in Baghdad on Friday. The episode, the latest in a series of diplomatic spats and tit-for-tat summonings of envoys between the neighboring countries, is likely to worsen already strained relations.

Davutoğlu surprised the media and angered the Iraqi government by paying a unannounced visit to Kirkuk on Thursday, where he met with and was warmly greeted by representatives of the Turkmen community, who share close ethnic ties with Turks.

The control of Kirkuk, a city of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, has long been a matter of contention between the Iraqi central government and the Iraqi Kurds, who hope to annex the city into their autonomous region in the north. The city is currently under the control of the Iraqi government. Turkey, too, has long opposed Kurdish rule of Kirkuk, out of concerns that this would encourage separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish population.

Davutoğlu headed to Kirkuk after talks in Arbil with Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region, on Turkish concerns about Syrian Kurds. In a statement posted on its website, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the visit was "not appropriate" and an "interference in the internal affairs of Iraq" and warned that Turkey would "bear the consequences," which would negatively affect relations between the two neighbors.

The Kirkuk spat brought already strained ties between Turkey and Iraq to a new low. Turkey has been hosting Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni vice president, who faces charges of terrorism in his own country. Also to the chagrin of the Iraqi government, Turkey has recently started importing crude oil from northern Iraq under a deal with the Iraqi Kurdish administration. Turkey separately imports oil from Iraq through a twin pipeline that runs from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean oil terminal of Ceyhan.

The Maliki government has slammed Turkey for pursuing "hostile" policies in the region and interfering in Iraqi affairs, while Ankara says Maliki's Shiite-led government is trying to monopolize power by suppressing Sunni Arabs and other groups.

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