Iraq crisis talks cancelled

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, December 23, 2011

Crisis talks between political leaders set for Friday, a day after Iraq's worst attacks in four months, were cancelled amid a worsening row that has seen its premier threaten to dissolve power-sharing.

Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is wanted on charges of running a death squad, blamed the crisis on Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and accused the Iraqi leader of behaving like now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Al-Maliki, meanwhile, has called for his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq to be sacked for calling the government a "dictatorship," and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, to which both al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq belong, has boycotted both parliament and the cabinet.

Tensions were further heightened on Thursday, when insurgents carried out coordinated attacks in Baghdad that killed 60 people and wounded nearly 200, while violence elsewhere in the country claimed another seven lives.

In an interview with the BBC's Arabic Service, al-Hashemi blamed al-Maliki for starting "a national crisis, and it's not easy to control."

"Iraqis have a right to be worried," he added.

Hashemi, who has denied the terror charges against him and is currently holed up in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, said Thursday's attacks occurred because the authorities were too busy chasing "patriotic politicians."

"What happened today shows the deficiency and it's good evidence for the lack of control over administration of the security brief, because the security services are pointed in the wrong direction."

The vice president also told US magazine Foreign Policy that "many of Saddam's behaviors are now being exercised by al-Maliki unfortunately."

"The judicial system is really in his pocket," he added.

The Vice President is currently out of Baghdad's reach in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil. Al-Maliki has urged Kurdish authorities to hand al-Hashemi over to Iraqi authorities, pledging a fair trial.

Sources within al-Maliki's camp allege al-Hashemi was behind last month's bombing of the parliament building and the assassination attempt on the premier's life.

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday's attacks, parliament called for an urgent session of political leaders to be held on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer and rest, but the meeting was later cancelled with officials giving differing accounts of the reasons why.

Aidan Helmi, media adviser to parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said the indefinite postponement was because MPs were unable to visit Baghdad due to Thursday's attacks. Helmi said it was unclear when the talks would be held "because there are many holidays coming up."

But a parliament official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks were cancelled because Maliki's National Alliance refused to attend if Iraqiya did not lift its boycott.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to discuss "all the difficult issues on the Iraqi political scene," Talabani's office said.

Biden supported efforts to bring Iraq's leaders together "to resolve problems through serious dialogue and in a peaceful way," the statement said.

In Baghdad, US army chief of staff General Ray Odierno, the former head of US forces in Iraq, met with Maliki and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, statements from their respective offices said.

The political dispute triggered demonstrations in the predominantly Sunni cities of Samarra and Ramadi, with hundreds of people calling for authorities to ensure al-Hashemi faced a fair trial.

The crisis comes just days after US troops completed their withdrawal, leaving behind what US President Barack Obama had described as a "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq."

The White House insisted Iraq's security forces were capable in the face of Thursday's "heinous" attacks.

The US embassy said it was "especially important during this critical period that Iraq's political leaders work to resolve differences peacefully."

UN special envoy to Baghdad Martin Kobler slammed the "horrendous" attacks, and said Iraq's leaders must "act swiftly, responsibly, and in unity."

(AFP, al-Akhbar)

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