Turkey, Iraq exchange sharp rhetoric with Syria as backdrop

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Turkish and Iraqi leaders exchanged sharp, rhetorical assaults Friday, each warning of growing instability in the other’s country, in the latest sign that tensions stoked by Syria’s civil war are spilling over into the region.

Tayyip Recep Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said this week that recent clashes in the north of Iraq between Iraqi government forces and the Peshmerga, who report to the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, “could be an oil feud as well as a sectarian conflict.”

He was referring to oil deals between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has criticized as well as Maliki’s crackdown this past year on leaders of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority, who first sought refuge in Kurdistan and later in Turkey.

“We always had concerns that, God forbid, this may turn into a sectarian clash. Now our fears are slowly becoming reality. This gives us cause to be concerned,” Erdogan said this week.

Maliki retorted Friday by effectively calling for Erdogan’s removal from power, even as he warned that Turkey could be descending into civil war.

“Erdogan should focus his attention on addressing Turkey’s domestic issues, which raise our concern, as Turkey heads toward civil war,” Maliki said in a statement released by his office.

He predicted that the “Turkish people are looking forward to changing the political situation to protect Turkey from worsening domestic and foreign problems.”

Turkey responded by deriding Maliki’s comments as “nonsensical remarks,” “groundless claims” and “fictitious evaluations.” The Foreign Ministry said Maliki had “lost touch with reality” and “confused the state of affairs in Iraq with that of Turkey” and called on him to “abandon policies that escalate tensions in the country.”

The United States in some ways is caught in the middle, committed to defending Turkey as a NATO ally but also linked with Iraq as a strategic partner that Washington is helping to arm.

Among the factors leading to the rhetorical volleys are two sets of clashes in the past week. According to news reports, 12 Iraqi troops died Monday in clashes with the Peshmerga, Kurdistan’s self-defense force, near Tikrit. Maliki sent tanks and armored vehicles to the oil-rich Kirkuk region – which both Kurdistan and the central government claim – among other incidents.

The other major clashes have occurred in Ras al Ayn, just inside the Syrian border with Turkey, where forces of the rebel Free Syrian Army have engaged a Kurdish force affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party for control of the border post. The Kurdish force, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union view as a terrorist organization, has been cooperating with the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad for some months.

The connection with the Syria conflict is that President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government has sided with Turkey in opposing a takeover by Kurdish extremists of parts of northern Syria, whereas Maliki, presumably under Iranian pressure, has allowed Iranian aircraft to overfly Iraq with military equipment and support for Syria’s government.

Now Barzani has informed Turkish leaders that he’s very worried that Maliki, a Shiite Muslim with ever-closer ties to Shiite Iran, intends to use brute force against Iraqi Kurdistan.

In a showdown between Barzani and Maliki, Turkey almost certainly would back Barzani.

“So far, we have not been approached” for help, a Turkish official told McClatchy on Friday. But he didn’t reject support out of hand. “Let’s see when and if they do” ask for help. “Let’s see what they ask for.”

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • 100 years ago, World War I, the Great War, unleashed chaos that still reverberates

    Disaster struck the world 100 years ago this week, leading to millions of deaths, wrecking cities, ripping old nations apart and creating new ones, overturning empires and the monarchs that led them, sweeping away traditional customs and values, and changing the world in ways that still affect us today. But why should we care about something that happened a century ago?

  •  
Journalists photograph Argentina's Finance Secretary Pablo Lopez in his car as he leaves a debt negotiation session in New York on Thursday, July 24, 2014. On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered around-the-clock negotiations aimed at averting a second debt default by Argentina in 13 years. Argentina's president said Wednesday that her country will not go into default because it has been paying debts to bondholders on time.

    Argentina in last-ditch effort to avert default

    Argentina's government said Monday it will make another effort to reach a deal with US. creditors ahead of a looming deadline that risks sending the country into its second default in 13 years.

  •  
Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, left and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond  second left, and their Polish counterparts Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, right,  attend a news conference  in Warsaw Poland Monday July 28, 2014 after talks upon the situation in eastern Ukraine.

    Poland, Britain call for more sanctions on Russia

    The foreign ministers of Poland and Britain have called for more economic sanctions on Russia, saying it is responsible for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine this month.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category