JNN 16 Nov 2013 Baghdad : A Sunni-Shiite rift is a worrying trend in the Middle East but recent developments in Turkey’s ties with Iraq and Iran could prevent the threat of a sectarian war, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday as he visited Baghdad in the latest sign of a thaw in bilateral relations, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
The two-day visit, which follows a similar trip by Davutoglu’s counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, last month, included talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Zebari, as well as several other officials and political leaders in Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The foreign minister and the delegation accompanying him were also scheduled to visit al-Kadhimiya and al-Azamiyah areas of Baghdad. He is also expected to meet influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani today.
Praising the latest rapprochement with the neighboring country, Davutoglu emphasized the importance of the mutual visits.
“The ties have gained new rhythm with these visits. After my visit, our parliamentary speaker will head to Iraq, and in December, there will be technical talks of the high-level strategic council. After that, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Turkey,” Davutoglu said while underlining the softening of political tension in the country.
“Meeting [Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud] Barzani and al-Maliki and [Parliamentary Speaker Osama] al-Nujaifi have all contributed to normalizing ties between Ankara and Baghdad,” Davutoglu told a group of journalists en route to Baghdad.
When asked if Turkey was opening a clean page with Iraq, the top diplomat said “yes,” adding that the normalization was not related to al-Maliki’s recent visit to Washington but was merely a coincidence.
Zebari also said the tension “has ended and we have opened a new page,” during a press conference with Davutoglu.
“The most important goal for us is to naturalize and restore diplomatic and political relations back to their normal state,” Zebari said.
Relations between two countries, which had been on the upswing as recently as 2011, fell off as the two countries clashed over the Syrian crisis and Turkey’s ties with the KRG. Iraq was also left frustrated by Turkey’s decision in early 2012 to give refuge to former Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who was convicted in absentia on charges of organizing death squads.
“The second dimension is Iraqi elections in April 2014. As Turkey, we will remain at the same distance to all parties in Iraq. Ties between Turkey and the northern Iraqi administration do not exclude any party in Iraq,” Davutoglu said.
Baghdad has previously slammed energy deals between Ankara and the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
“The third and maybe the most important dimension is that when an atmosphere of Sunni-Shiite conflict arises in the context of the Syrian crisis, Turkey-Iraq ties is one of the two things that will break this atmosphere, defuse the tension and spoil the plans of groups that appeal for sectarian clashes. The second one is Turkey-Iran ties,” he said.
“We see the establishment of a political process, where all ethnic groups will participate, as the most important factor in preventing a clash between Sunnis and Shiites. Iraq is a little Middle East. If there are ethnic clashes in Iraq, it will spread to the region. If ethnic-sectarian clashes spill into Iraq, it will be an unstoppable process,” the foreign minister said. “That’s why recent developments in Turkey’s ties with Iraq and Iran will neutralize sectarian war scenarios.”
As part of his meetings with religious leaders, Davutoglu held talks yesterday with Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Al-Hakim praised the reconciliation process between the two countries and hailed the efforts of both sides, underlining that mending bilateral ties would also foster regional stability. They also discussed the secterian tension in the region and sought ways to defuse it.
“The humanitarian tragedy in Syria, radical groups and the Syrian regime’s oppression are all of our concerns,” Davutoglu said at a press conference after the meeting.
Meeting with Grand Ayatullah Sistani
Turkey and Iraq should apply for U.N. arbitration to resolve a long-standing water problem, according to grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a spiritual leader for Shiites in Iraq and the wider region, as well as a major political force.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani made the suggestion yesterday at a meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as part of the Turkish minister’s two-day trip to Iraq.
“Al-Sistani complained about Turkey’s cutting of the flow of water into Iraq and Turkey’s construction of dams on these rivers,” a source familiar with the talks told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The rivers in question, the Euphrates and Tigris, both begin in Turkey and pass through Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf in Basra. Al-Sistani said Iraqis were suffering from water shortages and that the issue should be resolved through bilateral mechanisms and, if subsequently necessary, through U.N. arbitration.
Davutoğlu explained Turkey’s position with regard to water allowance to neighboring countries, but Ayatollah al-Sistani was unconvinced, according to the source. Davutoğlu earlier said he would not discuss political issues with Ayatollah al-Sistani but most of their conversation reportedly focused on political issues. The two men also discussed ways to avoid a sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East.
In his statement after the meeting with Ayatollah al-Sistani, Davutoğlu expressed his happiness for being in Najaf, one of the Shiite holy towns, during the sacred month of Muharram.
Davutoğlu described his meetings with both Ayatollah al-Sistani and al-Sadr as “productive,” in regards to eliminating concerns over a regional sectarian conflict.
Black shirt, green tie
In a highly symbolic move to demonstrate his mourning for the killing of Imam Hussein, which is commemorated by Shiites during Muharrem, Davutoğlu wore a black shirt and a green tie. Davutoğlu visited another prominent Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, in Najaf before proceeding to another Shiite holy town, Karbala.
‘Difference of views on Syria not major’
Discussions about Turkey’s alleged support for radical groups in Syria were not raised in talks with either Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or his Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Davutoğlu said, dismissing claims to the contrary.
Iraqi reporters who raised the issue were actually influenced by reports in international media, Davutoğlu said.
Underlining the intense speculation over the issue, he said there were also findings indicating use of Iraqi territory by radical groups in order to pass to Syria.
According to Davutoğlu, the difference of views between Ankara and Baghdad over the Syria crisis is not major, noting that the two capitals would continue dialogue. \
Visit to the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala :
According to TRT website, the Turkish official also had a meeting with Aqeel Al-Tarihi, governor of the holy city of Karbala.
In this meeting, Davutoglu prayed that “God will bless us to follow Imam Hussein (AS) and take steps on his path.”
He added that Turkey will spare no efforts to serve the holy city of Karbala.
On the second day of his official trip to Iraq, the official who headed a Turkish delegation, also went to the holy city of Najaf and met with Grand Ayatollah Sistani to discuss with him the current developments in the region.
The trip was made at an invitation by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari with the aim of developing the relations between the two countries
In line with the objective, Nouri Maliki, Iraqi Prime Minister, is due to go on a trip to Turkey and then the Turkish Prime Minister will pay a visit to Iraq.