Iraq issued an arrest warrant for its Sunni vice president Monday in an anti-terror case, deepening a crisis that one of the country’s leaders warned could force the collapse of the unity government.
Barely a day after American forces completed their withdrawal from the country, Iraq’s fragile political truce was unraveling, with Tareq al-Hashemi wanted, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki calling for the sacking of one of his deputies, a Sunni who belongs to the same bloc as Hashemi.
Hashemi’s Iraqiya bloc has said it is boycotting parliament to protest Maliki’s monopolising of power in the government, which Massud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdish region, has warned is under threat.
“According to article four of the anti-terrorism law, an arrest warrant has been issued against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and it is signed by five judges,” Major General Kamal Hussein, a senior interior ministry official, said at a news conference.
The judicial committee that issued the warrant earlier barred Hashemi from leaving the country. On Sunday evening, he was briefly escorted off a plane at Baghdad airport bound for the Kurdish region.
News of the warrant came as state broadcaster Al-Iraqiya TV aired footage showing what the interior ministry said were Hashemi’s bodyguards confessing to planning and carrying out terror attacks, and receiving funding and support from the vice president.
At least 13 of Hashemi’s bodyguards have been detained in recent weeks, though it was unclear how many were still being held.
Barzani earlier called for urgent talks to prevent the “collapse” of the country’s national unity government, warning that “the situation is headed towards deep crisis.”
“The ruling partnership has become threatened,” added Barzani, who in November 2010 hosted a meeting of senior Iraqi leaders at which the foundations of the national unity government were laid, ending months of impasse following elections in March that year.
He did not propose a date for the meeting in Monday’s statement.
Hashemi’s office, meanwhile, complained on Monday of “intentional harassment” in the form of a security force blockading his home for several weeks, as well as other incidents.
Over the weekend, Iraqiya said it was boycotting parliament and Maliki called for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak to be ousted. Lawmakers are due to consider his request on January 3, a parliament official said.
Mutlak, who was accused of being a supporter of Saddam’s outlawed Baath party in the run-up to the 2010 elections that he was barred from standing in, told his own Babiliyah television channel this month that Maliki was “worse than Saddam Hussein.”
Iraqiya, which holds 82 seats in the 325-member parliament and controls nine ministerial posts, has not pulled out of the national unity government.
The bloc, which garnered most of its support from the Sunni Arab minority and emerged with the most seats in March 2010 elections, was out-manoeuvred for the premiership by Maliki who, after finishing second in the polls, struck a deal with another group to broaden his power base and lead the government.
The political party loyal to anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr lamented that the timing of the crisis, after US troops completed their withdrawal from the country early on Sunday, suggested American forces had held the political system together.
“We do not want to send any wrong message to the world, after the withdrawal of the occupying forces, that the one who was controlling the issues in Iraq was the occupier,” said Baha al-Araji, head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc.