ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday of fanning tensions between Iraq’s Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds through his “self-centered” ways and behavior toward coalition partners.
Erdogan made the blunt comments after a meeting in Istanbul with Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, who has cultivated strong relations with Ankara.
“The developments in Iraq are not good signs, especially the current prime minister’s behavior towards his coalition partners,” Erdogan told a news conference, according to the Hurriyet newspaper website.
“His self-centered ways... are seriously disturbing Shi’ite groups, Barzani and Iraqi groups,” Erdogan said, adding that he had discussed these issues with the Iraqi Kurdish leader.
Maliki, a Shi’ite, heads a fragile coalition along with Sunni Muslims and Kurds.
During his visit to Istanbul, Barzani had also been expected to meet fugitive Iraqi deputy president Tareq al-Hashemi, who has been accused of running Sunni death squads. The meeting could not be confirmed.
Sectarian tensions flared in Iraq after Maliki’s government ordered Hashemi’s arrest in December, renewing fears of a return to the bloodletting of 2006-2007.
Erdogan was speaking before leaving for Doha for talks with Qatari leaders that will focus on the crisis in Syria. Turkey is worried that the violence in Syria and growing tensions in Iraq could lead to a wider conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in the region.
Maliki’s government warned Erdogan against interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs after he made similar remarks in January.
Erdogan also said he had discussed with Barzani the long running separatist insurgency being waged by the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey. PKK fighters operate from bases in northern Iraq, but Barzani assured Erdogan that his government shared Erodgan’s desire for an end to the conflict.
“They were particularly disturbed by this issue and it’s not possible for them to approve of the terrorist organization,” Erdogan said.
Iraq is Turkey’s second largest trading partner after Germany, with trade reaching $12 billion last year, more than half of which was with the Kurdistan region.
Reporting by Seltem Iyigun; writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Myra MacDonald