Iraq’s government marked its first anniversary yesterday in turmoil, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged Kurd officials to hand over the Sunni Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on terror charges, in a row that has raised communal tension.
Washington has urged calm, but al-Maliki threatened to replace ministers belonging to the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc if they did not end a Cabinet boycott, while al-Hashemi, currently holed up in the autonomous Kurdish region, rejected claims that he ran a death squad.
Lawmakers are also due to consider a call from al-Maliki to sack Sunni Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, who has decried the Shiite-led national unity government as a “dictatorship.”
All this comes just days after US troops completed their withdrawal from the country, leaving behind what US President Barack Obama described as a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.”
“We call for the government of the Kurdistan region to ... hand over Hashemi to the justice system,” al-Maliki told a news conference in Baghdad. “We do not accept any interference in Iraqi justice.”
“We gave the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein a fair trial, and we will ensure that a fair trial will also be given to Hashemi,” he said, referring to the executed former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
He also warned al-Hashemi and Mutlak’s Iraqiya bloc that he would replace the group’s nine Cabinet ministers if they continued to boycott government sessions.
Al-Maliki’s remarks came after he held a telephone call with US Vice President Joe Biden, who urged him to work with other parties to resolve the worsening crisis that threatens Iraq’s fragile political truce.
Biden spoke with al-Maliki and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and “stressed the urgent need for the prime minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together,” the White House said.
Al-Hashemi, meanwhile, held a defiant news conference in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil, denying the charges laid against him and vowing to defeat them in court.
“I swear to God that I never committed a sin when it comes to Iraqi blood,” he said on Tuesday. “I suggest transferring the case to Kurdistan. On this basis, I will be ready to face trial.”
He added that apparent confessions aired on state TV linking him to attacks were “false” and “politicized.” His office has complained of “intentional harassment.”