Sun, Dec 25, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Iraqi vice president warns of sectarian violence

ONE-MAN SHOW:Minority Sunnis fear that the Shiite majority is depriving them of any say, while the Shiites suspect Sunnis of fomenting terrorism and insurrection

AP, QALACHWALAN, IRAQ

Iraq’s Sunni vice president, wanted for allegedly running a hit squad in Iraq, has accused Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al--Maliki of waging a campaign against Sunnis and pushing the country toward sectarian war.

In an interview on Friday, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said al-Maliki wants to get rid of all political rivals and run Iraq like a “one-man show.”

The comments by Iraq’s -highest-level Sunni political figure reflect mounting sectarian tensions surrounding the confrontation between him and the prime minister that have hiked fears Iraq could be thrown into new violence following the exit of US troops.

The political crisis taps into the resentments that have remained raw in the country despite years of effort to overcome them, with minority Sunnis fearing the Shiite majority is squeezing them out of any political say, and Shiites suspecting Sunnis of links to -insurgency and terrorism.

“He’s pushing the things to a catastrophe. And I’m not sure what’s going to happen after that,” al--Hashemi, who denies the accusations, said of the prime minister.

He spoke at a guesthouse of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the mountains overlooking the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 260km northeast of Baghdad.

Al-Hashemi arrived here last Sunday with a small suitcase and two suits to discuss the growing conflict with al-Maliki’s government.

However, what was supposed to be a two-day trip has stretched nearly a week after the Iraqi government on Monday issued an arrest warrant against him on what he says are trumped-up charges. He has refused to go back to Baghdad, where he says he cannot get a fair trial. The central government’s security forces do not operate in the northern autonomous Kurdish zone, so he is safe from arrest there.

The Iraqi government says al-Hashemi orchestrated a campaign of assassinations carried out by his bodyguards. Earlier this week, they aired televised confessions of the bodyguards detailing how al--Hashemi gave them money for the hits.

The confessions have aired repeatedly since then, including on state TV, when al-Hashemi earlier this week held a press conference defending himself.

Fears the situation could spiral out of control were heightened by devastating bombings that tore through mostly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad on Thursday and killed at least 69 people. Many fear Iraq could fall back into the vicious sectarian bloodshed that reached its height in 2006 and 2007 and nearly threw the country into civil war.

Al-Hashemi is one of the leaders of the Iraqiya party, a Sunni-backed political bloc that has constantly clashed with al-Maliki’s Shiite coalition and accused him of hoarding power. Al-Maliki is also seeking a vote of no-confidence against the Sunni Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Security forces have also launched a wave of arrests against former members of the Sunni-dominated Baath Party, which ruled Iraq under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

In Sunnis’ eyes, the moves show al-Maliki is out to get them.

“Definitely, he is going to concentrate on the Sunni community because they are the society, the community of Tariq al-Hashemi, so they are going to suffer,” the vice president said.

He said other sectors of Iraqi society could also be targeted in the future, but for now, it is the Sunnis.

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