ANKARA Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki paid a brief visit to neighboring Turkey on Thursday in search of support from around the region for his bid to retain the premiership in the next government.
Iraq's Arab neighbors and Turkey are keen that a new administration in Baghdad, still the subject of tense negotiations seven months after an inconclusive election, should include both the country's major political blocs.
Maliki met President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul before heading to Ankara, the capital, to meet Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. He had previously travelled to Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
"This is a short but a very important visit," Maliki told reporters in Turkey, without elaborating.
Locked in a battle for power with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Maliki remains at odds with the Shi'ite Alawi's secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the most votes.
Maliki, also a Shi'ite, has already secured crucial support from Iran-backed, anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraq's neighbors are concerned that a Shi'ite-dominated government headed by Maliki might exclude the Iraqiya bloc. They are pressing for a "unity" government to include that bloc.
The state of flux in Iraq has sparked concerns of a spike in violence just as the sectarian slaughter triggered after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion recedes and U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Relations between Turkey and Iraq have been overshadowed in the past by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels who have used northern Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks into southeastern Turkey.
But trade and diplomatic ties have blossomed, as regional heavyweight Turkey has sought to expand its influence in the Middle East under Erdogan's AK Party government.
On Wednesday, a consortium led by TPAO, Turkey's state-run oil company, won an auction to develop Iraq's Mansuriyah gas field near the Iranian border in Diyala province.
TPAO's partners are Kuwait Energy Company and South Korea's Kogas.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Thursday investment in two Iraqi gas fields, the Siba and Mansuriyah fields, will be $3.2 billion.
(Writing by Selcuk Gokoluk, editing by Paul Taylor)