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 Turkey does not want return to Iraq chaos: minister

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Turkey does not want return to Iraq chaos: minister  18.1.2012  

Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan at the business forum in the Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.. Photo: KRG
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January 18, 2012

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Turkey does not want a return to chaos in Iraq, Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said on Wednesday in comments that followed a complaint from Baghdad that Ankara was meddling in its internal affairs.

Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad on Monday to complain about comments by Turkish officials, a sign of regional tension over worries that Iraq's political crisis could lead to sectarian war.

Iraqi officials did not specify what Turkish remarks they were angry about, but the complaint appeared to stem from comments earlier this month by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who said a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Iraq, if unleashed, could engulf the entire Islamic world.

"Turkey is not in the habit of interfering in the internal affairs of any country," Caglayan told a business forum in the Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

"We hope the Iraqi people who have for years seriously suffered from war ... will not enter an atmosphere of chaos just as the (U.S.) soldiers are leaving," he said in a speech. "God willing, the problems of Iraq will be overcome by Iraqis."

At least two rockets were fired at the Turkish embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi and Turkish sources said. One hit a protective wall at the compound but no one was hurt.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government stoked fears of renewed sectarian strife when it issued an arrest warrant in December for Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of running death squads, just after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Hashemi fled to Kurdistan region where his presence has dragged the Kurds into the political fray, threatening to wreck Maliki's fragile ruling coalition with them and Sunni groups.

Kurdistan authorities are unwilling to hand Hashemi back to Baghdad where the vice-president says he will not receive a fair trial.

Mainly Sunni, but officially secular Turkey, has sought to play a bigger diplomatic role in the Middle East, backed up by its growing might as the world's 16th biggest economy.

But while Ankara insists it maintains its official "zero problems with the neighbours" foreign policy, its support for Syrian demonstrators has drawn it into tensions with Iran, one of the main backers of the Damascus government.

Analysts say Turkey has heavily courted Sunni and Kurdish political blocs in Iraq in recent years, while Iraq's Shi'ite parties remain closer to Shi'ite Iran.

In an interview with al-Hurra television on Friday, Maliki said: "Turkey is unfortunately playing a role which may lead to disaster and civil war in the region."

Iraq is now Turkey's second biggest export market after Germany, with trade volumes between the two reaching nearly $12 billion in 2011, Caglayan said.

More than half of that trade is with Kurdistan, which puts the region in Turkey's top-10 trading partners.

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