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Iraq, Turkey vow to open 'new chapter' in relations

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Iraq and Turkey on Friday vowed, following a meeting between foreign ministers, to improve relations between the two countries which have been marred in recent years by a series of disputes.

"We agreed to take new steps in order to improve bilateral relations and to open new horizons," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a news conference in Ankara.

"We have turned the old page and opened a new chapter in our relations," Zebari said in remarks translated into Turkish.

In the past two years, Ankara and Baghdad have engaged in a public war of words, accusing each other of inciting sectarian tensions and, at various stages, summoning each other's ambassadors in tit-for-tat manoeuvres.

The fate of Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashem is one of several contentious areas that have dogged once close ties.

Hashemi, a Sunni who has been sentenced to death in Baghdad on charges of running death squads, fled to Turkey last year when Iraq's Shiite-led authorities sought his arrest.

He has however denied the charges and branded the sentence "the final phase of the theatrical campaign" carried out by his rival, Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his "politicised judiciary".

Other issues of contention between Ankara and Baghdad include the Syrian conflict, the Turkish military presence in Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels, and how to share the region's oil wealth.

Zebari heralded that a new mechanism would be established between the two countries for political consultations and direct communication.

"Our official channels, diplomacy channels are open," he said.

For his part, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government considered the two-year stagnation in bilateral ties as "temporary."

"We can still have differences but we can sit and discuss how to resolve our differences through dialogue and create a synergy out of differences," he said.

Davutoglu is expected to visit Iraq next month.

But despite the tensions, Iraq is Turkey's major trade partner. More than 1,000 Turkish companies are currently operating in northern Iraq.

"Turkey is our major trade partner. Economic ties have never been hampered by the tensions, which is an indicator of strong bonds between the two countries," said Zebari.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131025/iraq-turkey-vow-open-new-chapter-relations