BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's government on Thursday said Turkey had violated its constitution by sending its foreign minister without permission to visit a city at the heart of a dispute between Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region.
Relations between Iraq, close to Shi'ite Iran, and Sunni Muslim regional power Turkey, were strained at the end of last year after Iraq tried to arrest one of its Sunni vice presidents and Ankara gave him refuge when he fled Iraq.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Iraq's Kirkuk, one of the areas whose control is disputed between the Iraq Arab-led central government and ethnic Kurdish officials who run their own region to the north of the country.
Iraq said the Turkish official had gone to the city without permission from the Iraqi central government after first visiting the Kurdistan regional president in Arbil.
"It is a blatant interference in internal Iraqi affairs, and Turkey bears responsibility for this act before the Iraqi people," Iraq's foreign ministry said in a statement.
"It is not in the interest of Turkey or any other side to underestimate national sovereignty and to violate the rules of the international relations," it said.
Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government and Kurdistan are locked in a long-running dispute over who controls territories and oilfields along their internal border. Kirkuk is one of those areas and has huge crude oil reserves.
Long a big investor in Iraq, Turkey had played a role in trying to maintain a balance among Iraq's sectarian mix of Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties. But since American troops left Iraq, Baghdad and Ankara have engaged in a war of words.
The neighbors are also at odds over the crisis in Syria with Turkey taking the lead to back opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraq resisting joining Arab League calls for the Syrian leader to step down.
Turkey gave refuge to Iraqi Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi when he fled Baghdad through Kurdistan after Iraqi authorities charged him with running a death squad at the end of last year, triggering a political crisis in Iraq.
Since then Iraq's Maliki and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have traded insults. Turkey accuses Maliki of sowing sectarian tensions by sidelining Sunni rivals. Maliki calls Turkey a hostile nation meddling in Iraq's affairs.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Louise Ireland)