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Iraq: Shi'ite Leaders Discuss Visit To Turkey

Iraq's al-Ja'fari and Turkey's Erdogan on 28 February (epa) RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki and Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati in Baghdad about their participation in the February 28 meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara. The delegation, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, evoked a terse response from President Jalal Talabani, who claimed al-Ja'fari should have informed the presidency council and other members of the cabinet of his plans to visit Turkey --> . The interview was broadcast on March 2.

Al-Maliki: We discussed several issues concerning land transport and ways of strengthening the transport between Iraq and Turkey. Turkey has responded positively to the idea of opening a new border crossing between Iraq and Turkey. There has also been a wish to expand the airline connections and this will be hopefully implemented, too. The possibilities of developing railway connections between Iraq and Turkey have been discussed as well, beside other topics.

I believe that the visit was really positive and that it will have good effects on the Iraqi-Turkish scene. We have been trying to strengthen and expand the relations with neighboring countries, and Turkey is an important country for the relations of Iraq.

RFI: Turkey has expressed concern over the security situation in Iraq after the recent Samarra bombings, and voiced its readiness to support Iraq in all fields.

Al-Maliki: Turkey hopes that the next government [in Iraq] will be a national-unity government. We told them that the political forces in Iraq, and the United Iraqi Alliance as one of them, have the same goal: that the next government be a national-unity government representing the whole specter and all the communities of the Iraqi people, but respecting the election results, as you know [the position of the United Iraqi Alliance].

Turkey, represented by its Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] and President [Ahmet Necdet Sezer], expressed its full readiness to support Iraq in all fields. The ambitions put forward by Turkey were indeed in the interest of the Iraqi people, of the unity [of Iraq], and management of the security situation. They are very uneasy about the security situation.

RFI: The Iraqi government visit to Turkey that has been criticized by the Presidency Council as a breach of [Iraq's interim constitution known as] the Transitional Administrative Law. The visit took place upon the invitation from Turkey's Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan], Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati explained.

Al-Bayati: When an Iraqi official with the rank of minister receives an invitation, it is natural that he asks the Council of Ministers for approval of his trip. When the prime minister is invited, in some cases he replies to this invitation himself.

What happened with the Turkey visit was that Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a delegation to express solidarity with the Iraqi government and people after the incident of the blowing up the dome of Imams Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari Shrine [in Samarra on February 22]. He also addressed an invitation to Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to visit Turkey. The Prime Minister [al-Ja'fari] accepted the invitation and the visit took place on the background of previous relations between the two countries and to seek the support of the Turkish government for the formation of a national-unity government in Iraq.

RFI: One of the reasons why the Iraqi Presidency Council has criticized the prime minister might be that he did not include Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari in the delegation. Hamid al-Bayati said that the latter entrusted him with joining the delegation to Turkey.

Al-Bayati: Being the deputy foreign minister, I was asked by the foreign minister, who is my supervising official, that I accompany the delegation to Turkey, which I consequently did. We conducted effective talks with officials including Turkey's Prime Minister [Erdogan], Foreign Minister [Abdullah Gul], President of the Republic [Sezer], and a number of other cabinet ministers.

RFI: Some sources say that the concern of the Kurds [in Iraqi politics, among whom is Iraq's President Jalal Talabani,] was due to the inclusion of some Turkoman representatives in the Iraqi prime minister's delegation to Turkey. Hamid al-Bayati said, however, that the talks in Turkey touched on neither the Turkoman question nor the issue of Kirkuk city.

Al-Bayati: The issue of Turkomans was not included in the talks, and the issue of Kirkuk has been dealt with in the [new] constitution and, previously, in the Transitional Administration Law. Iraqis, with their political forces and government, have been doing their best to find a convenient solution to the Kirkuk issue in accordance with the constitution and Iraqi laws.

RFI: Some media reports said a meeting was held [on March 2] in the Baghdad office of Kurdistan Regional President Mas'ud Barzani, gathering all major political blocs except the United Iraqi Alliance to discuss the results of the visit of Turkey and to determine the position of those blocs to [al-Ja'fari as] the nominee of the United Iraqi Alliance for prime minister. Informed sources in the Presidency Council have denied that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani attended the meeting.

(translated by Petr Kubalek)

Iraq's Kurdish Region

Iraq's Kurdish Region

KURDISH AWAKENING: The ethnic Kurdish region in the northern part of Iraq has struggled in recent years to reestablish its cultural and political identity after decades of oppression under the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In December, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel traveled to this area and filed several reports:

Relative Peace Underscores Issue Of Kurdish Region's Future

Kurdish Culture Begins To Flourish In Kurdistan Region

Kurds Ponder How To Strengthen Autonomy After Elections

Irbil’s Kurds Live On A Hill Of Undiscovered Treasures

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.

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