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    Sunday, April 22, 2012

    Turkish PM lashes out at Iraqi counterpart, denies meddling

    21 Apr 2012 21:49

    Source: reuters // Reuters

    By Ayla Jean Yackley

    ISTANBUL, April 21 (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected charges he sought to inflame sectarian divisions in Iraq with recent criticism of its government and accused his Iraqi counterpart of trying to gain "prestige" in an escalating war of words between the neighbours.

    The row heated up on Thursday when Erdogan accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of acting "self-centred" and inciting tensions between the country's Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds amid a constitutional crisis in Baghdad.

    Maliki in turn branded Turkey a "hostile state" and said Erdogan's remarks "represent another return to flagrant interference in Iraqi internal affairs," according to a statement on his website on Friday.

    "We don't differentiate between Sunnis or Shi'ites. Arab, Kurd or Turkmen, they are all our brothers," Erdogan told reporters in comments reported by the NTV news channel.

    "If we respond to Mr. Maliki, we give him the opportunity to show off there. There is no need to allow him to gain prestige."

    Turkey, which is majority Sunni, has been seen as a key ally and even a role model for Iraq, because of its secular constitution and close relations with the West, including membership in NATO.


    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 semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

    INTERFERENCE

    Baghdad has occasionally accused Ankara of meddling in its affairs since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria have also been accused of destabilising their neighbour.

    The bitter exchange between Maliki and Erdogan came after the Turkish leader met Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region, who has cultivated close relations with Turkey's government.

    Erdogan also met Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who fled Iraq in December after a warrant for his arrest was issued, sparking the current political crisis in Baghdad. Hashemi is wanted on charges he ran death squads.

    Turkey's Foreign Ministry weighed in on the dispute and issued a statement that said Turkey has no intention of interfering in Iraq or any other neighbour's internal affairs.

    "The foundation of the political crisis in which Iraq finds itself is that Iraqi politicians seek to consolidate power and exclude others, rather than (follow) politics that are based on democratic and universal principles," it said in a statement.

    "It is a fact that behind the misperceptions that led to the accusations against Turkey by Prime Minister Maliki, who instigated the crisis in Iraq, this wrong understanding of politics can be found," it said.

    As long as they present no obstacles, Turkey seeks friendly relations with its neighbours, the statement also said.

    Erdogan previously has warned that Turkey would not remain silent if a sectarian conflict erupted in Iraq. He is also a vocal critic of erstwhile ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown against a largely Sunni uprising.

    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.

    Relations with Iran have also soured over Turkey's opposition toward Tehran's ally Assad.
    (Editing by Paul Simao)

    ==========

    Monday, 23 April 2012, 06:56 GMT
    Kurdish-Turkish ties stronger than ever


    In this photo provided by Turkish Presidency Press Service, President Abdullah Gul, left, greets Iraqi Kurdish Regional leader Massoud Barzani, before a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, April 20, 2012./ AP Photo/Murat Cetinmuhurdar

    The Kurdish Globe

    Ankara says Iraqi PM too "self- centred" to lead the country

    Barzani meets with highest-ranking officials during two-day visit to Turkey.

    After concluding a tour of Europe and the United States started in late March, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani arrived in Turkey on April 29 as his last stop before returning to Kurdistan.

    President Barzani met with Turkey's highest-ranking officials, including President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

    Turkish media described the visit and meetings as "very important" events in the history and future of Kurdish-Turkish relations.

    During the first day of his visit, Barzani met with Prime Minister Erdogan and reiterated improving political and economic relations between the two countries.

    The two-hour meeting was held in the Prime Minister's office in Istanbul, and was also attended by the head of Kurdistan Region Protection Agency, Masrour Barzani, and Kurdistan Presidency's Chief of Staff, Dr. Foad Hussein, and National Intelligence Organization (MIT) executive Hakan Fidan, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay, and Deputy Foreign Minister Fereydun Sinirlioglu from the Turkish side.

    During the meeting, both sides agreed that they need to improve their bilateral relations in political, economic and cultural aspects. They also discussed the current political situation in Iraq and the obstacles in front of the political process in the country.

    Both leaders discussed the situation of neighboring Syria and their opinions about the Syrian opposition. Barzani reiterated in the meeting that the rights of Syrian Kurds should be recognized. He also explained to Erdogan the purpose and results of his tour to Europe and the U.S.

    While discussing the current situation in Iraq, the Turkish PM criticized his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al Maliki and described
    his actions as fueling sectarian conflicts among the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis of the country. Erdogan said that this resulted from unilateral decisions and bad behavior with his partners in governing the country.

    "The current prime minister's treatment toward his coalition partners, his egocentric approach within Iraqi politics... seriously concern Shiite groups, Mr. Barzani and the Iraqiya group," said Erdogan during a post-meeting press conference.
    Erdogan told reporters that the events in Iraq do not have positive indications, especially what is related to the "attitude" of the current Iraqi Prime Minister toward his partners in power. He also added that Maliki's "behavior" has raised concerns among Kurds, Shiites and other political groups in the country.

    In a reactionary statement one day after Erdogan's meeting with Barzani, PM Maliki said on Friday that Turkey is becoming a "hostile state" in the region, accusing its prime minister of interfering in internal Iraqi affairs and of sectarianism.

    "The latest statements of Erdogan are another return to the process of interfering in Iraqi internal affairs and it confirms that Mr. Erdogan is still living the illusion of regional hegemony," Maliki said in a statement posted on his website.

    "It is regrettable that his statements have a sectarian dimension which he used to deny before but that has become clear and is rejected by all Iraqis," Maliki said.


    On the second day of the visit, Barzani met with his counterpart, President Gul, and Foreign Minister Davutoglu. The meeting was centered around political situations in Iraq and the region in general and future prospects in this regards.

    Both presidents discussed bilateral ties and vowed to improve them in a way that is mutually beneficial for the people of the two countries.

    Another topic of the meeting was the Kurdish issue in Turkey, where both sides discussed possible solutions.

    "The Turkish government has taken positive steps in the past few years and these acts should be continued and developed," said Barzani, addressing the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

    While emphasizing that dialogue is the only solution for this and any other such issues, the Kurdish President refuted reports claiming that he has requested PKK to abandon arms or that he has promised to act as a mediator between PKK and Turkey in Qandil, but stated that arms don't solve the Kurdish issue and other ways should be used in this regard.

    Addressing the Kirkuk issue and its future, Barzani said, "Kirkuk people will decide their future by themselves."

    During the visit, the Kurdish delegation also met with Selahattin Demirtaş and Gültan Kışanak, co-chairmans of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) as well as Ahmet Turk, a Kurdish member of Turkish Parliament.

    Barzani also met with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, who is currently in Turkey after he visited a number of Gulf countries.

    Hashemi announced, after his meeting with Kurdistan Region's President in Istanbul, that their meeting was mainly about internal political developments in Iraq, Hashemi's recent meetings with Gulf countries' authorities, Kurdistan Region's Europe and U.S. tour as well as his meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister.


    Barzani concluded his tour at Turkey and arrived at Erbil International Airport on Friday, April 20, where he was received by a large number of high-ranking government officials.

    =============

    Iraq opposition seeks to replace PM Maliki

    ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
    Iraq’s top political blocs are considering whether to nominate former premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari to the position of Prime Minister.
    The anti-PM al-Maliki front in Iraq considers to put his predecessor al-Jaafari in charge if recent negotiations ends in failure. AA Photo

    The anti-PM al-Maliki front in Iraq considers to put his predecessor al-Jaafari in charge if recent negotiations ends in failure. AA Photo

    İpek Yezdani İpek Yezdani ipek.yezdani@hurriyet.com.tr

    If the current Iraqi Prime Minister fails to agree to increase dialogue with other political entities in Iraq, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is most likely to be nominated to the post at the upcoming unity meeting, a senior Kurdish official told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

    “Our first goal is to create a new channel of dialogue with [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki to make him consider the other political parties in Iraq. However, if we don’t succeed in this our alternative is to remove al-Maliki and ask the National Iraqi Alliance to nominate someone,” said Cafer Ibrahim, spokesperson for the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was Prime Minister in the Iraqi Transitional Government from 2005 to 2006, can be an alternative to al-Maliki, Ibrahim said.

    Arbil meeting on May 7

    Leaders from almost all of Iraq’s top political blocs will convene at a unity meeting in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, on May 7, in order to find a solution to the political crisis between the Shiite-led government and the country’s Sunnis and Kurds. KRG leader Masoud Barzani, Iraq’s fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Shiite Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr and other political figures are expected to attend the meeting. “We have done so much about the cabinet of al-Maliki, however, Iraqi people are suffering right now (from the political crisis). Now we have invited all the political parties to the meeting to reach a national solution in Iraq,” Ibrahim said. If the group can make Prime Minister al-Maliki come down to the Arbil meeting and come to an agreement, then they could move forward to next step of creating a solution in the cabinet, Ibrahim said. “If we can not succeed in this, our alternative is to remove al-Maliki. We estimate the right person that all the groups, including the Sunni Al Iraqiye group and the Kurds, can agree upon will be Ibrahim al-Jaafari. He is acceptable by everyone,” said Ibrahim.

    May/04/2012

    ====================

    Leading Iraqi lawmakers threaten vote of no confidence

    05 May 2012 17:00

    Source: reuters // Reuters

    * Protest letter delivered to PM Maliki's bloc

    * Senior coalition politicians give 15-day deadline on demands

    By Raheem Salman

    BAGHDAD, May 5 (Reuters) - Four of the most senior political leaders in Iraq's fragile coalition have threatened to bring a vote of no confidence in the government unless "autocratic decision-making" stops, a letter published in a state newspaper on Saturday said.

    Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurd coalition began to creak in December, after U.S. troops left, when the government tried to remove Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

    Those incidents intensified long-running tensions between the Sunni and Shi'ite blocs that have hampered the government's ability to pass key legislation.

    The Baghdad government and the autonomous Kurdish region are also engaged in a simmering row over oil exports.

    The four senior lawmakers - Osama al-Nujaifi, Masoud Barzani, Iyad Allawi and Moqtada al-Sadr - sent the letter to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's bloc on Thursday, political sources told Reuters.

    Some of Maliki's opponents, including Barzani and Sadr, have accused him of becoming a dictator and several of his critics say he deliberately sidelines Sunnis and Kurds.

    The letter outlines eight demands to be met by May 13 to ensure the four leaders' support for Maliki's administration.

    "In case of a refusal to comply with the principles and frameworks of this agreement, practical steps will be taken, within a period of time not exceeding 15 days, to act upon a vote of no confidence against the government," the letter says.

    The letter is dated April 28, the last day of a three-day mini-summit held by the leaders during which they said they tried to find a solution to the political impasse.

    Maliki did not attend the meeting, which was held in the Kurdish capital Arbil.

    The letter called on the government to stop interfering with the security forces and with the work of parliament and contained a paragraph criticising autocratic decision-making.

    "Putting an end to any kind of one-man decision-making in the government pyramid and a tendency towards autocracy," the sixth demand reads.

    The letter also demanded that a two-term limit for the post of prime minister be retroactively introduced. Maliki is serving his second four-year term as prime minister.

    "(This is necessary) in order to ensure a peaceful transfer of power and to establish the foundations and principles of democracy and in order not to allow a climate of dictatorship," it said.

    The sole Shi'ite signatory of the letter, Sadr, has a history of acrimonious relations with Maliki.


    Maliki's bloc met on Thursday and pledged to hold a meeting of all of the coalition's political blocs within a week to hammer out a solution to the crisis, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, chairman of the coalition, said in a statement on his website. (Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Louise Ireland)

    ============================================

    ‘In Lebanon, two killed in clashes’

    LAST UPDATE

    Mon, 21 May 2012 08:03:30 GMT

    Lebanese state media say two people have been killed and 18 others injured in clashes between the supporters and opponents of the Syrian government in the capital, Beirut.

    The victims died in street fighting in Beirut during the early hours of Monday.

    Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns were used in the clashes, which broke out after reports said that Lebanese army troops shot dead anti-Syria cleric Ahmad Abdel Wahed when the convoy transporting him did not stop at a checkpoint in the town of Koueikhat, located in the northern district of Akkar, on May 20.

    Lebanese security officials said another person in the convoy was also killed.

    “The leadership of the army expresses deep regrets for the death of the two victims,” the Lebanese army said in a statement issued after the Akkar shooting incident.

    The statement added that the army will “immediately form an investigative committee comprised of senior officers and military police under the relevant court” to look into the incident.

    The deadly Monday conflict came a few days after one person was killed and several others wounded in clashes between supporters of the Damascus government, from the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood of the northern port city of Tripoli, and its opponents, who come from the nearby Bab al-Tibbaneh neighborhood, on May 17.

    Fighting between the supporters of the Syrian government and its opponents in Lebanon’s Tripoli erupted on May 12 as anti-Damascus demonstrators tried to approach the offices of the pro-Damascus Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
    ===

    Soldiers shoot anti-Assad clerics in Lebanon, triggering fresh violence
    By the CNN Wire Staff
    May 21, 2012 -- Updated 0952 GMT (1752 HKT)
    STORY HIGHLIGHTS

    For 29 years, Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon
    Some Sunni Muslims are staunchly anti-Assad; others support him
    Report: The clerics were shot when their convoy didn't stop at a checkpoint

    (CNN) -- In the latest instance of the unrest in Syria spilling across the border into Lebanon, deadly clashes broke out in Beirut on Monday following the shooting death of two anti-Assad clerics at the hands of soldiers.

    Two people were killed and 18 wounded in the Lebanese capital early Monday as clashes flared between rival political parties -- one supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the other opposing him -- the country's National News Agency said.

    The violence followed the killings just hours earlier of two anti-Assad clerics who were shot at a military checkpoint in northern Lebanon.

    The histories of Lebanon and Syria have long been intertwined.
    Syrian revolt spilling over into Lebanon
    Watching Syria from Jordan's border
    When peacekeepers can't keep the peace
    Video shows UN convoy bombed in Syria

    Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon between 1976 and 2005, primarily in the north. They were initially called in to help stop a brewing civil war, but maintained their significant presence, which once numbered 40,000, long afterward.

    In a country struggling to maintain a delicate balance among its religious and ethnic sects, resentment from the occupation lingers.

    Some Sunni Muslims are staunchly anti-Assad and sympathize with the Sunni-led uprising in Syria calling for his ouster. Support for Assad is also plentiful, particularly in the south.

    In recent weeks, as the Assad regime has shown no mercy in its crackdown on anti-government protesters inside Syria, the simmering animosity has boiled over.

    All last week, factions supporting and opposing the uprising in Syria clashed in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Casualty counts vary, with some reports placing the death toll as high as eight.

    On Friday, a video surfaced on YouTube that purports to show Lebanon's military arresting a Syrian activist at a hospital in Tripoli where he was being treated for wounds he suffered when Lebanese forces attempted to break up clashes between pro- and anti-Syrian regime groups.

    And on Sunday, two Sunni Muslim clerics were shot to death at a checkpoint in the northern state of Akkar.

    The National News Agency said soldiers fired on the clerics' convoy after it did not "abide by the Army's instruction" and stop at the checkpoint on its way to a sit-in organized by the anti-Assad Movement of the Future party.

    The army immediately issued a statement of regret and said it had opened an investigation.

    But Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister and leader of the Movement of the Future party, pointed the finger at Assad "infiltrators" in the military for the deaths.

    "There are some infiltrators who want to use the military and its image to import the crisis of the Syrian regime to Lebanon in a desperate attempt to save the Assad's regime from its inevitable end," he said.

    Abdel Qadir Abdel Wahid, the brother of one the slain clerics, echoed the sentiments in an interview with MTV Lebanon.

    "Unfortunately, we have some infiltrated elements in the Lebanese army, possibly officers who work for the Assad regime," he said. "I hope that the army institution cleanse itself from these elements."

    Hours later, armed clashes erupted in Beirut between Future supporters and those of the pro-Assad Arab Movement. In addition to the deaths, the clashes left shops damaged and cars torched, the national news agency said.

    "The civil war in Syria is likely to prove a watershed for the Middle East's balance of power," said Hillary Mann Leverett, who teaches foreign policy at American University in Washington. "It has the potential to become a full-blown regional war that could spill over into other countries and bring those countries into conflict, through proxies and perhaps even directly."

    Al-Assad, in a rare interview last week, put the blame for the Syria violence on the so-called Arab Spring, during which popular revolutions have toppled the governments of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. He also alleged that weapons bound for rebels were entering his country from Lebanon.

    "For the leaders of these countries, it's becoming clear that this is not 'Spring' but chaos," he told Russa 24. "And as I have said, if you sow chaos in Syria you may be infected by it yourself, and they understand this perfectly well."


    CNN's Saad Abedine contributed to this report.
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