Sectarian Tensions in Iraq Reach Crisis State

Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani called on Iraqi politicians to hold a "crisis summit" to discuss recent events surrounding Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s harassment of several Sunni politicians.

Over the weekend, Maliki accused Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi of financing an assassination plot against Maliki and paying bodyguards to commit other terror acts. According to the Iraqiya bloc, Hashemi’s bodyguards were tortured into providing the confessions that linked the V.P. to terrorism.

An arrest warrant was then issued against Hashemi, who is Sunni and a political rival to Maliki. Because Hashemi is now in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Baghdad Operations Command asked the Kurds to arrest him.

Barzani said it "can never be accepted that [the arrest warrant] was for security concerns." Although it was Barzani who brokered a power-sharing deal for Iraq last year, he has been at odds with Maliki for years as well. Barzani reportedly once told Maliki, "You smell like a dictator." Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also criticized the warrant, while Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned it as "clear tendency to spread suspicion among us."

The Sadrist movement, in the meantime, insisted that Maliki was not behind the warrant because the Interior Ministry issued it. Last year, the Sadrists formed an alliance with Maliki’s State of Law party in order to give the premier a second term as prime minister, despite having lost by two seats to Hashemi’s Iraqiya party. They are not considered unbiased.

At a press conference the vice president said he is willing to stand trial but only in Kurdistan and under the watchful eye of Arab League observers. Maliki’s power does not reach the courts there and he stands a better chance of a fair trail.

Having already denied the accusations, Hashemi instead accused Maliki of conducting a sectarian vendetta. He demanded to know why Maliki waited until U.S. troops withdrew to press charges against acts that stretch back to 2006. Hashemi also added, "Two of my brothers and one of my sisters were killed by terrorists and now I am accused of carrying out terrorist attacks."

Maliki also tried to fire his deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq for calling him a dictator. Parliament has to pass a no-confidence vote againt Mutlaq before he is officially fired, and Maliki threatened to resign if they didn’t do as he asked. It is unlikely that he will go through with the threat.

Back in Baghdad, a noticeable increase in security forces, particularly around the homes of Hashemi and other Sunni leaders, is instilling fears in some Iraqis. The Iraqiya party even claimed that some soldiers were shooting at their motorcades. Many Sunnis, who already feel oppressed by the Shi’ite-dominated government, are just shrugging their shoulders at the latest harassment. And in Mosul, a military force arrested an employee of the governor. The man is a leader in the Hadba party which is affiliated with Iraqiya.

In a related event, roads in Diyala reopened after protests against changing the province to a semi-autonomous region ended. On the other hand, Maliki effectively shut down Diyala’s constitutionally legal bid by sending in about 25,000 security personnel. Diyala’s governor, Abdul-Naser al-Mahdawi, also relocated to Iraqi Kurdistan in the wake of this week’s events.

Meanwhile, at least eight Iraqis were killed and 16 more were wounded in new attacks.

In Falluja, one person was killed and four more were wounded during an explosion at a military uniform shop. The bodies of four kidnapped contractors were discovered. Four civilians were wounded in a roadside bombing.

In Baghdad, an attack at a Sab al-Bour checkpoint left one person dead and two others wounded. A sticky bomb in Adhamiya wounded two government employees.

Gunmen killed one person at a Mosul market. Two policemen were wounded during an attack on a checkpoint. A female kidnap victim was liberated.

A bomb in Haswa killed one person and wounded two others.

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Author: Margaret Griffis

Margaret Griffis is a journalist from Miami Beach, Florida and has been covering Iraqi casualties for Antiwar.com since 2006.