BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad on Monday to complain about comments by Turkish officials it said amounted to meddling in its affairs, a sign of regional tension over worries that political crisis in Iraq could lead to sectarian war.
Iraqi officials did not specify what Turkish remarks they were angry about, but the complaint appeared to stem from comments earlier this month by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who said a Sunni-Shi’ite conflict in Iraq, if unleashed, could engulf the entire Islamic world.
Fears of renewed sectarian conflict in Iraq have increased since U.S. troops withdrew last month and Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government sought the arrest of a Sunni vice president on accusations he ran death squads.
Maliki’s government denies it has a sectarian agenda, but the arrest warrant threatens to wreck a fragile ruling coalition that saw Sunni and Kurdish groups join Maliki’s cabinet.
Many Iraqis fear that a collapse of the power-sharing deal could lead to renewed sectarian violence, which still simmers but at a much lower intensity than in 2006-07 when tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
In an interview to al-Hurra television on Friday, Maliki said: “Turkey is unfortunately playing a role which may lead to disaster and civil war in the region.”
Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammed Jawad al-Dooreki summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad on Monday, urging his government to consider the “necessity of avoiding anything that might disturb” good relations, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said.
“The Turkish ambassador gave assurances that Turkish officials’ statements were in good faith and he will inform his government in Ankara of the Iraqi position,” the foreign ministry statement said.
Turkey responded by summoning Iraq’s envoy to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Turkey, which has a Sunni majority but is officially secular, has attempted to play a moderating role as rivals Shi’ite Iran and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia jockey for influence in the region.
Since the 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Shi’ite majority have been in the ascendancy, and Maliki has moved the government closer to Iran. But the country also has strong trade ties with Turkey, a major investor.
Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Peter Graff