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Turkey welcomes efforts to unseat Maliki amid political crisis in Iraq

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Turkey welcomes efforts to unseat Maliki amid political crisis in Iraq

June 4, 2012

Turkey has welcomed efforts by Iraqi politicians to unseat Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid an unprecedented political crisis in the country fueled by the prime minister's deliberate purging of Sunni opponents.

Politicians in the Iraqi Parliament have collected enough signatures to hold a non-confidence vote that could lead to the ousting of Maliki. Some 172 votes have already been collected and were presented to Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Usama Abdul Aziz al-Nujayfi by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Monday, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkey welcomes the development, Turkish diplomatic sources told Today's Zaman. The officials added that the source of the political crisis in Iraq is Maliki and that there is no conflict between Turkey and Iraq, but rather a crisis within the war-torn country. The sources also said Sunnis and a Shiite group led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr consider Maliki responsible for the current crisis.

According to Ankara, Sadr's “principled stance” was decisive in making the process potentially success. Stressing that even Shiite groups are not supportive of Maliki, the officials said an inclusive government that is capable of building dialogue with all segments of Iraq would be the most beneficial outcome.

Expectations are that Maliki will do everything to hold on to power and will pledge to address the demands of Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and other groups. But officials say those who are racing against Maliki seem very decisive this time.

Political analysts argue that Turkey should pay close attention to developments in Iraq for future relations with the country.

Meanwhile, the debates have been recently sparked on forming sovereign regions in southern Iraq, directly after discussions on Maliki's unseat has come onto the agenda. Al Bazzunu, the head of Iraqi provincial council announced that in case Maliki loses the confidence of the Iraqi parliament an independent Basra administration would be constituted in the south. Muqteda al-Sadr, one of the prominent Shiite clerics in Iraq that allied himself with Maliki's opponents in order to oust him, strongly criticized such a scenario which would harm territorial integrity of Iraq. Al-Sadr has aligned himself with the opponents of al-Maliki, who is facing mounting allegations from members of his broad unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that he is monopolizing power.

Atillla Sandıklı, the head of İstanbul-based think tank Bilgesam claims that Maliki is now suffering because of his efforts to create a Shiite-based monopoly of power, by taking strength from an alliance with Iran, marring the clear principles of a power balance between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups found in the Iraqi constitution.

So far, Turkey has helped solve political rifts in Iraq while warning Maliki that his actions could deepen such rifts. Maliki has made a mistake by leaning on an alliance with Iran,” Sandıklı asserted.

The trouble in Iraq began on the last days of 2011, when the secular Sunni-backed Al-Iraqiyya bloc began a boycott of parliament and the cabinet over what it said was Maliki's centralization of power. Maliki sought to depose Sunni deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, an Al-Iraqiyya member over his claims that the prime minister tried to constitute a Saddam-like administration in the country.

That month, an arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Al-Iraqiyya, for allegedly running a death squad. Also, the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) relations with the Shiite-led government, which already has long-running disputes with Kurds over territory and oil, were strained further when al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's leading Sunni politicians, fled Baghdad for the Kurdish north in December to avoid prosecution. While touching on the possibility of increased political instability and a conflict situation in the country as Maliki stays in power, Sandıklı also warned that Turkey should pay attention to a possible vacuum of authority having implications on Iraq's territorial integrity after Maliki's withdrawal.

A Turkish diplomat, who spoke under conditions of anonymity, also commented that Turkey desires that solutions to the Iraqi political crisis should be found within the framework of the Iraqi constitution.

The situation does not clearly suggest that Maliki's ousting is possible. After collecting of the quorum to unseat the prime minister, a newly established commission has started an inquiry on whether the votes are fraudulent or not. Bilgay Duman, an expert on Iraq from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), based on this information, did not deem Maliki's going very likely. “Maliki has constituted a strong monopoly of power during his stay and he will probably be able manage the process with political bargaining. Also, there are rifts within the opposition groups which would prevent them from constituting a strong bloc in front of Maliki,” Duman explained, giving a low contingency to an easy and quick removal of Maliki. Relations with Turkey will follow a negative course in the future, he said.

Turkey's strained relations with Maliki have crystallized after Turkey supported Iyad Allawi, the Sunni leader of the Iraqi election-winning Al-Iraqiyya bloc, in the 2010 Iraqi elections. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki have traded tit-for-tat criticisms and accusations several times this year. Erdoğan last month accused Maliki of fanning tensions between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds in Iraq through “self-centered” behavior. Maliki quickly responded that Turkey was becoming a “hostile state” with a sectarian agenda, saying it was meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to establish regional “hegemony.”

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