Iraqi Shiite leader Ammar al-Hakim on Thursday appealed for calm in relations with Turkey, warning that neighborly ties should not be tarnished by mutual accusations.
“The solid and friendly relations between Turkey and Iraq being overshadowed by daily political matters is unthinkable. This cannot be allowed,” Hakim told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“We are in need of relations which will strengthen our bonds of friendship,” said Hakim, leader of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), in translated remarks.
The SIIC, a Shiite Islamist political party with nine seats in Iraq’s 325-member parliament, was founded in Iran in 1982 after Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, father of Ammar al-Hakim, and his brother Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim fled Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.
Hakim’s remarks came as Ankara and Baghdad have traded accusations in recent weeks over a political crisis that has stoked sectarian tensions in Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angered his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, by phoning him on Jan. 10 about a standoff with his Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is accused of running a death squad.
As Erdogan warned Iraqi leaders against fomenting sectarian tensions, the Iraqi premier accused Ankara of intervening in Iraqi affairs and the two countries have called in each others’ respective ambassadors to express their displeasure.
“Turkey has never adopted an approach based on ethnicity or sect,” Davutoglu told the news conference, according to AFP.
“We have agreed to be united against any attempts to divide our region along ethnic lines,” he added. “I hope Iraq will get over these critical days and become one of the leading countries of a new era in the region.”
Iraq has been mired in a political crisis since U.S. forces withdrew from the country on Dec. 18, pitting the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed political bloc Iraqiya.
A month after the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, violence has surged during its escalating political crisis, and this has raised concerns in neighboring Turkey, which has been dealing with an insurrection by its Kurdish minority since 1984, with some Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq, according to The associated Press.
On Thursday, Hakim extended an invitation to the Iraqiya bloc to return to parliament as the “political representative” of the Iraqi people.
The Iraqi leader met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan later in the day.
Sunnis fear that Iraq’s Shiite-led government will try to do push aside their leaders one by one, as Maliki tries to cement his own grip on power.
Last week, the leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Ayad Allawi, accused Maliki, a Shiite, of unfairly targeting Sunni officials and deliberately triggering the political crisis. Allawi, also a Shiite, said Iraq needs a new prime minister or new elections to prevent the country from disintegrating along sectarian lines, according to AP.
The Iraqi government crisis has intensified sectarian resentments that have remained raw in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion unleashed fierce fighting between Sunni and Shiite militias battling for dominance and killing tens of thousands civilians on both sides of the sectarian divide just a few years ago.