Al-Hakim seeks to diffuse simmering Iraq, Turkey tensions

‘We are in need of solid, friendly relations’

ANKARA - Iraqi Shiite leader Ammar al-Hakim on Thursday appealed for calm in relations with Turkey, warning that neighbourly 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 January 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.
"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 US forces withdrew from the country on December 18, pitting the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed political bloc Iraqiya.
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 was due to meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan later in the day.