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Plane Incident Highlights Tensions Between Iraq, Turkey

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz speaks during the first International Energy Arena in Arbil, about 350 kilometers north of Baghdad, Iraq, May 20, 2012.
Iraqi authorities have denied entry to a plane carrying the Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz en route to Erbil, the capital of Iraq's largely-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

The incident comes as tensions continue to grow between Baghdad and Ankara.
Speaking to reporters, Yildiz explained the situation. He said they left Istanbul Tuesday to go to northern Iraq for an international energy and natural gas meeting, on a plane provided by the Turkish prime minister's office. He said they were informed, however, that the northern Iraqi airspace was closed to all private planes.

Yildiz's plane landed across the border at a Turkish airport. According to Turkish authorities, Baghdad has given no official reason for its action. Tensions have been growing between the countries, though, centering on issues involving Iraqi Kurds.

Energy resources dispute

Iraqi Kurds are in dispute with Baghdad over the control and distribution of Iraq's rich energy resources. The years-long dispute has seen the regional Kurdish government in Erbil sign energy contracts directly with international companies, many of which are Turkish.

Iraq's central government has condemned the deals, claiming they are illegal. The United States also has expressed concern at the speed of economic cooperation between
Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.

But Ankara has rejected those concerns. Yildiz said his planned visit to the Iraqi Kurdish region was for the benefit of Iraq.

He said the meeting was about the whole of Iraq, whether the north or the south. He said he believes the miscommunications will be resolved.

Deteriorating relations

The deepening economic and political ties between Ankara and Erbil come as relations between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, continue to plummet.

Erdogan has accused Maliki of seeking to monopolize power, a charge he strongly rejects. Bilateral relations further soured after Turkey provided sanctuary to Iraq's vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, who was convicted of murder charges in Iraq and is embroiled in a political dispute with Maliki.

Ankara and Baghdad currently are clashing over the standoff between Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish armed forces in northern Iraq.

Erdogan accused Maliki of driving Iraq to civil war. That drew an angry reaction from the Iraqi prime minister, who accused Turkey of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs and not respecting the territorial integrity of Iraq.