Davutoglu reiterates Turkey’s support for strong, united Iraq

Türkiye Materials 27 January 2012 04:36 (UTC +04:00)

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Turkey has no sectarian or ethnic bias in its approach toward Iraq, adding the country would like to see Iraqis of all backgrounds building a new and strong Iraq together, Today's Zaman reported.

"Iraqi people, with their Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Arabs, Turks and Turkmens, building a new and strong Iraq together will be the first sign of new and big days to come for the entire region," Davutoglu said on Thursday at a joint press conference with the visiting Ammar al-Hakim, a powerful cleric and leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

The foreign minister and al-Hakim spoke on Thursday at a joint press conference in the afternoon following a meeting. Davutoglu praised al-Hakim as a religious scholar coming from one of the oldest traditions in the region, adding that al-Hakim's family had lost many martyrs to the freedom struggle in Iraq. Davutoglu also said he wanted to take the opportunity to remember al-Hakim's fallen family members.

He noted that al-Hakim was one of the wisest community leaders in the region, noting that Turkey saw it as a vital opportunity to conduct intense consultation sessions with al-Hakim during this time of extraordinary transformation in Iraq.

Davutoglu said the changes the country is undergoing included both great opportunities and great risk. Davutoglu said he and al-Hakim agreed that the transformation and "awakening" in Iraq should work to strengthen the ties between the people of the region and serve the creation of a new zone of economic and political welfare in the Middle East.

The foreign minister said he and al-Hakim during their meeting agreed that all sides involved should be united against any attempts to disunite Iraq along any sectarian or ethnic lines.

He said the thriving of Iraq would serve as the most fundamental criterion for evaluating the rest of the region. "Iraq's success is all our success; it is the success of the region and, in fact, the most fundamental criterion in terms of measuring the success of the region."

He said he firmly believed Iraq will be led out of these critical and difficult times under the leadership of wise men such as Ammar al-Hakim.

On Thursday, al-Hakim said the political crisis pitting Shiite officials against his country's largest Sunni-backed bloc must end. However, he failed to offer any news of a change in the legal challenge that started the standoff: an arrest warrant that Iraq's Shiite-led government filed against Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges, sending him into virtual exile in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Al-Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has responded by boycotting Iraq's parliament and cabinet sessions, bringing government work to a standstill. Al-Hashemi denies charges of running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and refuses to return for trial in Baghdad.

"I want to invite Iraqiya to return to the parliament and take its place in the parliament," al-Hakim said during the press conference. "We say we will examine their just demands and do whatever is necessary."

Al-Hakim said an administration run by members of only one sect was impossible, but he didn't say what Iraq's government should do to end the crisis.

A month after the US military withdrawal, violence has surged during Iraq's escalating political crisis, and this has raised concerns in neighboring Turkey, which has been dealing with a separatist campaign led by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since 1984, with some PKK militants based in northern Iraq.

Turkey, whose population is mostly Sunni, has criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, regarding the standoff. Maliki has replied by accusing Turkey of interfering in Iraqi affairs.

"We can't remain silent if you start a process of sectarian conflict," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, referring to al-Maliki, on Wednesday.

Al-Hakim also met Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul later on Thursday.

During a meeting with al-Hakim, Gul invited all Iraqi factions to show restraint and act with common sense amid political instability in the war-torn country, a statement from the Turkish president said Thursday. He also urged Iraqi sects to restart dialogue to restore stability in the country.

Turkish Prime Ministry said in a statement released later on Thursday that Erdogan stressed Iraq's unity in his talks with Al-Hakim and told him that Iraq belongs to all Iraqi people.

The statement said Erdogan and Al-Hakim discussed bilateral relations and the latest developments in the region. It added that Al-Hakim stressed the importance of relations with Turkey and that the talks were "very helpful" with respect to Turkish-Iraqi relations.

Sunnis fear that Iraq's Shiite-led government will try to push aside their leaders one by one as al-Maliki tries to cement his own grip on power.

Last week, the leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Ayad Allawi, accused al-Maliki of unfairly targeting Sunni officials and deliberately triggering the political crisis. Allawi, also a Shiite, said Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from disintegrating along sectarian lines.

The Iraqi government crisis has intensified sectarian resentments that have remained raw in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion unleashed fierce fighting between Sunni and Shiite militias battling for dominance and killing tens of thousands civilians on both sides of the sectarian divide just a few years ago.