Raid on Sunni minister flares tension in Iraq

Raid on Sunni minister flares tension in Iraq

Raid on Sunni minister flares tension in Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (L) speaks with Iraqi Chief of Staff Abu Baker Zebari in Baghdad in this file photo. Leaders of the Iraqiya bloc call for peaceful protests against the raids they say were orchestrated by al-Maliki. AFP photo

Iraq’s Sunni leaders accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of a political crackdown after troops raided the finance minister’s office and home, threatening to reignite a crisis a year after the last American troops left the country.

The raids and detention of the Sunni minister’s staff came hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who often mediated among the fractious Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs, left for Germany after suffering a stroke that could end his moderating influence in Iraqi politics.

Politicians and authorities gave conflicting accounts of the incident, but it was reminiscent of a year ago when Iraqi authorities sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and his bodyguards, accusing them of running death squads just as the United States troops packed up, Reuters reported

Calling on Maliki to quit

Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, said Dec. 20 that more than 100 bodyguards and staff were snatched illegally by a “militia force” - an apparent reference to a security forces unit militias - and blamed al-Maliki for orchestrating the raids to target opponents.
“I call on the prime minister to resign, because he did not behave like a man of state,” al-Esawi told a news conference alongside parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, also Iraqiya members.

Higher Judicial Council spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar told Agence France-Presse that nine of al-Esawi’s guards were detained under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, and that all necessary arrest warrants had been obtained.

He told Iraqiya state television that the commander of the guards had confessed to carrying out “terrorist acts,” which he said meant “bombings and assassinations.” The interior ministry said on its website that its forces carried out the arrests around al-Esawi’s house, put the number of detained guards at 10, and published what it said were copies of the arrest warrants.

The arrest of al-Esawi’s guards come almost a year after al-Hashemi’s guards were arrested and accused of terrorism. Al-Hashemi later fled to Turkey and was sentenced to death in absentia.
“This confirms there is continued systematic targeting of the Sunni symbols and leaders participating in the political process,” Iraqiya leaders said.

They called on their supporters to protest peacefully after on Dec. 21 prayers, Reuters reported. Esawi said lawmakers would seek a vote of no confidence in al-Maliki. Al-Maliki’s rivals tried earlier this year to organize a vote of no confidence against him, but it failed because Talabani did not back the vote and because of splits among al-Maliki’s foes.

Talabani, 79, a former guerrilla who was admitted to hospital on Dec. 16, had often mediated among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and in the growing dispute over oil between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.

A U.S. embassy spokesman said: “Any actions from any party that subverts the rule of law or provokes ethnic or sectarian tension risks undermining the significant progress Iraq has made toward peace and stability.”

Ali al-Moussawi, al-Maliki’s media advisor, said the judiciary had issued arrest warrants for six of the minister’s bodyguards and accused rival politicians of trying to stir tensions by linking the case to the premier.

“The law and judiciary for them have no value, they see only political differences,” Moussawi said. “They blame al-Maliki for everything.”