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World

April 21, 2017

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Erdogan interview irks Baghdad

Erdogan interview irks Baghdad

Iraq summons Turkish envoy

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s foreign ministry has summoned the Turkish ambassador over an interview in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described an Iraqi paramilitary organisation as "terrorist", officials said on Thursday.

"The foreign ministry has decided to summon the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to hand him a formal protest note regarding recent remarks by the Turkish president on the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation)," ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal said in a statement.

In an interview to the Doha-based Al-Jazeera channel, whose Baghdad office was shut down last year, Erdogan spoke of the Hashed al-Shaabi, which has played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State group.

"In the fight against Daesh (IS) in Iraq there is something striking. It’s interesting, the Iraqi parliament says the Hashed al-Shaabi is not a terror group but what is interesting is who is behind this terror group," Erdogan said.

Fateh Yildiz started to serve as Turkish ambassador to Iraq in January this year.

The Hashed al-Shaabi is an umbrella of armed groups dominated by militia loyal to Iran.

Turkey is keen to retain its influence in parts of northern Iraq and the Hashed al-Shaabi has ventured ever further north in recent months, raising concerns that Iran and Turkey could clash via their proxies.

Erdogan is a reviled figure among much of Iraq’s parties, who accuse him of having directly supported the emergence of IS and of continuing to abet the Jihadists’ operations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been under intense pressure from his own camp over the continued presence in northern Iraq of Turkish military bases.

For its part, Ankara wants tougher action against the Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist organisation and which has bases in northern Iraq.

“What George, Hans or Helga say does not interest us!" roars Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "What counts for us is what Ayse, Murat, Mehmet, Hatice say! What Allah says!".

This mantra -- setting common European names against Turkish ones and finally invoking God -- has become Erdogan’s standard rhetoric to tell the European Union he does not care about their reaction if Turkey restores the death penalty.

But such a move would have immense ramifications -- automatically drawing the curtain on the half-century drama that has been Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Some analysts thought that Erdogan would drop his rhetoric on capital punishment, helpful for winning the support of nationalists, after the April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers.

But with the referendum won, albeit by a narrow margin and the opposition claiming fraud, Erdogan has vigorously returned to the topic.

After proclaiming victory, Erdogan promised thousands of supporters chanting "Idam!" ("Execution!") that Turkey would hold a referendum on the issue if parliament failed to adopt it.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani wrote on Twitter that he was "very concerned" by Erdogan’s comments, saying the reintroduction would be a "red line" for the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the move would be "synonymous with the end of (Turkey’s) European dream". Turkey abolished the death penalty in all circumstances in 2004 -- two years after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power -- as a key pillar of its bid to join the EU.

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