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 Turkey PM defends foreign minister's Kirkuk trip

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Turkey PM defends foreign minister's Kirkuk trip  6.8.2012  
By Ekurd.net staff writers





 
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday defended his foreign minister's visit to the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk last week, which infuriated Baghdad.  Photo: AP See Related Links
August 6, 2012

ANKARA,— Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday defended his foreign minister's visit to the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk last week, which infuriated Baghdad.

His visit to Kirkuk comes a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Iraq's semi-autonomous region of 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.

It is only normal for "a minister bearing a red passport to visit the regional administration (in northern Iraq) and then travel to Kirkuk, 40 kilometres from (Erbil) to meet with his kinsmen," Erdogan told the ATV television station.

Kirkuk province is part of a swathe of disputed territory in northern Iraq that along with oil contracts are the two main points of contention between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government in Erbil.

Davutolgu visited leaders of Kirkuk's Turkmen community, with which Ankara has long had close ties, as well as religious and historical sites including the city's Ottoman cemetery.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said that it was done without approval from Baghdad.

On Sunday, Erdogan said growing energy bonds between Turkey and northern Iraq were also a source of uneasiness for the Baghdad government.

The oil dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan government in Erbil has worsened, with the autonomous region looking to ramp up oil production and export capabilities. The region has also cut off oil exports to Iraq in a payment row.

Adding to the controversy, Turkey has for months hosted Iraq's fugitive Sunni Arab vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted on charges of running a death squad and is being tried in absentia.

Turkish media recently reported that Hashimi was granted residence permit by Turkish authorities to avoid visa problems during his trips abroad but that was not confirmed by a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman contacted by AFP.

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,
www.ekurd.net 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. 

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, AFP | ekurd.net | Agencies

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