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 Iraq summons Turkey envoy to protest over visit to Kirkuk

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Iraq summons Turkey envoy to protest over visit to Kirkuk  4.8.2012 

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) and the governor of Kirkuk Najm al-Din Omar Karim (L), give a joint press conference following their meeting in the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, on August 2, 2012, during a rare visit by a high-ranking Turkish official to the city. His visit comes a day after Davutoglu visited Kurdistan and met Kurdistan president, Massoud Barzani, for talks that focused on the conflict in Syria, and at a time of notably cool relations between Baghdad and Ankara. Photo: Getty Images
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August 4, 2012

BAGHDAD,— Iraq made a formal protest to Turkey's envoy in Baghdad on Friday after the Turkish foreign minister made a surprise visit to an oil-rich Iraqi city claimed by both the central government and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region.

The episode, the latest in a series of diplomatic spats and tit-for-tat summonings of envoys between the neighboring countries, is likely to worsen already strained relations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had travelled to Kirkuk on Thursday after visiting the regional president in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Iraq's foreign ministry accused Turkey of violating its constitution with the visit, saying that Davutoglu had neither asked for nor obtained permission to enter Kirkuk.

A junior minister at Iraq's foreign ministry had handed Turkey's charge d'affaires a protest letter on Friday, a strongly-worded statement from the foreign ministry said.

"The note also included a demand by the Iraqi government (for an) urgent explanation from the Turkish government," it added.

Relations between Iraq, close to Shi'ite Iran, and Sunni Muslim regional power Turkey, were tested after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq last year and the government immediately tried to arrest one of its Sunni vice presidents.

He fled first to Kurdistan and later to Ankara, where he was given refuge.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan then traded public insults.

Baghdad's Arab-led central government and ethnic Kurdish officials are locked in a protracted dispute over who controls territory and oilfields along their internal border. Kirkuk, which possesses huge crude oil reserves, is one of those areas.

Iraq and Turkey are also at odds over the worsening conflict in Syria. Turkey has become one of the main backers of the rebels, while Baghdad has refused to support calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.

Iraq is Turkey's second largest trading partner after Germany with trade reaching $12 billion last year, more than half of which was with the Kurdish region.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad.
Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

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