lundi 11 novembre 2013

Sectarian clashes must be prevented, Davutoğlu says in Najaf

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (L) welcomes Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during his visit to Najaf, 160km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, November 11, 2013. (Photo: Reuters, Ahmad Mousa)

Davutoğlu in Iraq to turn new page in troubled ties

11 November 2013 /TODAY'S ZAMAN, ANKARA
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has reiterated his call for the prevention of sectarian clashes in the Middle East and said Turkey and Iraq are working together to fight sectarian division, on the second day of his Iraq visit.

On Monday, Davutoğlu visited the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala and met with Iraqi Shiite political figure Muqtada al-Sadr and Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. After his meeting with Sadr that was closed to press, Davutoğlu said he discussed with Iraqi officials ways to maintain ties with all actors in Iraq and what Turkey and Iraq can do together to prevent the regional problems turning into sectarian clashes.

“We [Turkey and Iraq] have been working on preventing sectarian clashes. There are and there will be circles that try to provoke [sectarian clashes],” he said after his meeting with Sadr on Monday.

Davutoğlu also met with Shiite leader Sistani earlier on Monday. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Davutoğlu again stressed the necessity of ending sectarian clashes in the region.

The sectarian clashes in the region also formed the large part of Davutoğlu's Sunday remarks. Davutoğlu said, in reference to the Syrian crisis, there will be tighter consultation mechanisms between the two countries and maintained that Turkey and Iraq will fight shoulder to shoulder against those who want to trigger sectarian and ethnic conflicts.

The cities that Davutoğlu visited, Najaf and Karbala, have important meaning in terms of Shiite Islam. Najaf is the one of the holiest cities of Shiite Islam and the center of Shiite political power in Iraq. Karbala, another city that has importance to Shiites, witnessed a battle, on October 10, 680. Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Imam Ali, the fourth caliph, was slaughtered by forces of Umayyad Caliph Yazid I in Karbala. In Karbala, Davutoğlu visited the tomb of Hussain.

Davutoğlu's visit to Iraq, in particular to Najaf and Karbala, took place in Muharram, the first month of the Muslim lunar (Hijri) calendar, which is deemed to be a period of mourning by Shiite Muslims for the martyrdom of 72 people, including Hussain, at the Battle of Karbala.

Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Faruk Kaymakçı recently attended a commemoration ceremony at the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, held to memorialize the tragic death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussain during the Battle of Karbala.

Davutoğlu's visit to Iraq comes as the Syrian conflict is increasingly turning into a sectarian confrontation that also involves Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Shiite powerhouse Iran. Turkey has teamed up with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in supporting the Sunni opposition that fights to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Iran, on the other hand, has aligned with Assad.

Turkey's staunch support for the Syrian opposition, coupled with tension with Iran and Iraq's Shiite-led government, has led to criticism that Ankara is pursuing a sectarian foreign policy in the Middle East, a charge the government denies.

Turkey has been strongly criticized for giving support and weapons to armed groups, mainly to Sunni al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra and supporting other Sunni opposition groups in Syria. In early November, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated again that Turkey doesn't give any support to extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, saying the groups Turkey supports in Syria are known, such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian opposition coalition, and that these groups are also recognized by the world.

Observers say Davutoğlu's visit to Iraq, preceded by a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Turkey earlier this month, is a sign that the government is modifying its foreign policy by restoring trust with the Shiite actors in the region.

Following the election of moderate Hassan Rohani as Iranian president in May, Turkey has said it is ready for cooperation with Iran to give an end to bloodshed in Syria although the two support different sides.

During Zarif's visit, Ankara and Tehran both expressed concern about the deepening sectarian conflict in the Middle East, despite the fact that Turkey and Iran are on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict.

“We will be working together to fight these types of scenarios that aim to see sectarian conflict,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying after talks with Zarif.

On Monday, the BBC reported that Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the Syrian conflict has renewed Sunni-Shiite sectarian division and that the situation in Syria “is probably the most serious security threat, not only to the region but to the world at large.”

He said Iran and Turkey agreed to work together against sectarian splits during his visit to Turkey.

“I think all of us -- and Iran is committed to this, and when I was in Turkey we agreed with our Turkish friends -- regardless of our differences over Syria, we need to work together on this sectarian issue," BBC quoted him as saying

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