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Surprise Turkish visit to Kirkuk angers Iraq

A surprise visit by Turkey's foreign minister to Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk has angered the Baghdad-based government. It has accused its neighbor Turkey of a "blatant interference" in internal Iraqi affairs.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu's visit to Kirkuk, a hub for oil refining and export, follows the refuge given in Istanbul last week to Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, ostensibly for medical reasons.

Al-Hashemi first fled Baghdad in December to northern Iraq's autonomous region of Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs known as Kurdistan, after authorities charged him with running a death squad. That trial against Al-Hashemi began in absentia in Baghdad in May.

A map of Iraq showing Kirkuk

Kirkuk - the strategic oil city in northern Iraq

Turkey and Iraq have also been at odds over the crisis in neighboring Syria, with the former backing opponents of President Bashar Assad, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government in Baghdad calling for noninterference in Syria while also taking in refugees.

Davutoglu "proud" of visit

On Thursday, Davutoglu said he was "proud to be the first Turkish foreign minister to visit Kirkuk in 75 years," calling it a city where "brothers live in peace."

In a statement, Iraq's Foreign Ministry declared Davutoglu's visit "not appropriate" and warned Turkey of negative "consequences."

An Iraqi oil worker checks equipment at a Kirkuk oil refinery

The Kirkuk region has major oil facilities and reserves

According to the ministry, the visit was staged without its prior approval and Turkey "or any other party" should not underestimate Iraq's national sovereignty.

The ministry also scolded the regional Kurdish administration in Kirkuk for facilitating the visit.

The Associated Press news agency reported that Davutoglu visited the self-ruled region to jointly tackle any threats that might emerge from the power vacuum in Syria - an apparent reference to Turkish Kurdish rebels.

In recent decades, Turkey has struck at Kurdish rebels operating from bases inside Iraq's northern border.

ipj/mkg (Reuters, AP)

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