Report: Minister cancels US-Iraq-Turkey counterterrorism meeting

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (Photo: AP)

29 January 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA

Turkey’s interior minister has cancelled a Baghdad trip to join a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Iraq and the US to combat terrorism in the region, on the grounds that ties are strained between Turkey and Iraq following the Iraqi prime minister’s accusations that Turkey has intervened in Iraqi politics, the Turkish Milliyet daily reported on Sunday.

Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin cancelled a visit he was going to make to Baghdad to participate in the trilateral working group, although the trilateral initiative plays an important role in curbing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist attacks in Turkey, which are launched from the Iraqi-Turkish border, Milliyet reported. Şahin’s cancellation of the crucial visit was reported to be the result of Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Turkish officials have called him “a thorn in Iraqi politics,” following his attack on Turkey for urging reconciliation with Sunni and Kurdish blocs. Maliki interpreted this as an intervention in the domestic politics of Iraq.

What’s really at stake are the ongoing joint Iraqi-Turkish efforts to open up three new border crossings, and ties between Ankara and Baghdad, which are in some jeopardy, the daily also noted. Turkey has been having a rough period with Iraq’s Shiite administration which, a day after the US pullout, waged a political war against their opponents, led by the most senior Sunni official in the country, Tariq al-Hashemi. Hashemi is now wanted by the Baghdad government on the grounds of engaging in terrorism. He claims the charges are a fabrication by Maliki aimed at garnering more power for the Shiite bloc. Hashemi called on Turkey to intervene and avert a sectarian partition in the country.

Turkey, battling PKK terrorism for decades in a fight that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, makes extensive use of intelligence gathered by the US in its surveillance of Iraqi borders, since the PKK launches its attacks from mountain bases located along the border through hit-and-run assaults on Turkish security personnel and civilians.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned on Saturday a bomb attack that killed 28 people on Friday, adding dozens to an already large number of casualties as a result of the sectarian polarization in Iraq following the US pullout. Without the buffer of US troops, Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite blocs have increasingly conflicted, a fact interpreted by Turkey as a sign that Iraq might be heading for a sectarian war, similar to what happened a few years back, when thousands died in clashes between religious blocs.

“On this sad occasion, we would like to strongly reiterate that Turkey will always act in full solidarity with the friendly and neighborly Iraqi people in combating terrorism,” the ministry said in a written statement on Saturday.

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