Iraqi leaders yesterday called for urgent talks to head off a worsening political crisis after authorities issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president on anti-terror charges.
Days after US forces left the country and on the eve of the first anniversary of the government, Iraq’s political truce looked to be unraveling.
Iraqiya, the main Sunni-backed bloc, is boycotting the Cabinet, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for the sacking of one of his deputies, a Sunni who branded the Shiite-led government a “dictatorship.”
The White House voiced concern over the developments and multiple Iraqi leaders called for a national conference of the country’s political blocs to break the deadlock.
“I call for a national conference, at a time when the political process is subject to strong and dangerous shocks with undesired consequences,” Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said in a statement.
Al-Nujaifi, who along with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak is a Sunni and a member of the Iraqiya bloc, warned that Iraq faced “crucial days.”
His call for talks echoed that of Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massud Barzani, who cautioned on Monday that “the situation is headed toward deep crisis.”
“The ruling partnership has become threatened,” said Barzani, who in November last year hosted a meeting of Iraq’s leaders at which the foundations of the national unity government were laid, ending months of impasse following elections in March that year, with a Cabinet eventually named on Dec. 21 last year.
On Monday, a five-member judicial panel issued a warrant for al-Hashemi on anti-terror charges, an interior ministry spokesman said. The vice president has also been banned from overseas travel.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the US, whose troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq over the weekend, had “expressed our concern regarding these developments.”
“We’re urging all sides to work to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue, in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the democratic political process,” he said.
News of the warrant came with al-Hashemi in Kurdistan and as state broadcaster al-Iraqiya TV aired footage showing what the interior ministry said were al-Hashemi’s bodyguards confessing to planning and carrying out terror attacks, and receiving funding and support from al-Hashemi.
At least 13 of Hashemi’s bodyguards have been detained in recent weeks, though it was unclear how many were still being held. Al-Hashemi’s office said only three were arrested and it has complained of “intentional harassment” in the form of a security force blockading his home for several weeks, as well as other incidents.
Iraqiya, meanwhile, said it would boycott the Cabinet to protest al-Maliki’s “dictatorship,” after earlier saying it was suspending its participation in parliament.
In a statement late on Monday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s office said the president was “surprised” at the announcement of the warrant and that the issue needed to be dealt with quietly. According to the statement, Talabani has been working behind the scenes over the last two days to come to a resolution over al-Hashemi.
“Making hasty decisions and announcing them in the media will complicate the political solutions needed in this delicate stage in Iraq’s history,” the statement said.