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Iraq can't afford a sectarian government

Al Maliki's two-day visit to Iran shows depth of Baghdad's friendship with Tehran

Gulf News

The government of Iraq is becoming dangerously focused on its Shiite constituency. This policy risks further alienating the wider Iraqi population which includes Sunnis and Kurds as well as other smaller groups, but it also has forced Iraq's Arabs and other friends in the region to distance themselves from the country, with the exception of its close ally Iran, with its Shiite-dominated government.

This sectarianism is damaging Iraq which needs support from its neighbours in the region. The government also has a lot of unfinished business to sort out internally since the occupation ended without giving Iraq an agreed constitution; its oil exports are in some confusion; and the economic climate is dangerously uncertain. At such a time, the government should not get sucked into seeking sectarian advantage when it has a responsibility to the whole of Iraq to do a better job.

The latest critic of Iraq is the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who after a meeting with the Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani last week, accused Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki of a "self-centred approach". This has led to a rebuttal from Al Maliki, who went so far as to describe Turkey as a "hostile state, while criticising Turkey's "flagrant interference in Iraqi internal affairs."

This week, Al Maliki has reinforced his pro-Shiite image with a two-day visit to Tehran, which may be to prepare for the important May 23 meeting in Baghdad between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme. The meetings included President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, as the two countries work to prepare joint positions on key issues. This depth of contact with Iran worries Iraq's Arab neighbours who have not been offered the same respect.