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 Iraqi VP Hashemi says Maliki is becoming a new Saddam

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Iraqi VP Hashemi says Maliki is becoming a new Saddam ‎ 24.12.2011 

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Iraq’s Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi (R) with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. Photo: AFP/Getty
Hashemi blames Maliki for bloody violence

December 24, 2011

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Iraq's vice president, in hiding to avoid arrest on terror charges, blamed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a sudden surge in sectarian violence.

"We should blame Mr. Maliki -- he started a national crisis and it's not easy to control," Tariq al-Hashemi told the BBC's Arabic service. "The Iraqis have a right to be worried."

His comments followed a series of explosions that ripped through mostly Shiite areas of Iraq's capital Thursday, killing at least 68 people and injuring nearly 200. The attacks, which began at 6:30 a.m., destroyed schools, markets and apartments.

Shortly before a wave of 15 bombings ripped through Baghdad on Thursday morning, killing more than 60 people, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi warned that a simultaneous political crisis in the country could spiral "beyond control." In an interview with Foreign Policy on Wednesday from Sulaimaniyah in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region where the vice president has fled to evade an arrest warrant, Hashemi declared that the Iraqi political system is "drifting from building democracy to building an autocratic regime" -- and implied that Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was becoming a new Saddam Hussein.

An ambulance packed with explosives incinerated a government office, The New York Times reported.

The morning blasts killed at least 65 people -- Baghdad's deadliest day in more than a year. Four more blasts shook Baghdad Thursday night, killing at least three more people.

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but analysts told the BBC and the Times they appeared similar to attacks conducted by the largely homegrown Sunni insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq.

Western officials were alarmed at how quickly the withdrawal of U.S. troops had led to deadly sectarian violence, the Times said.

Maliki is a Shiite. Al-Hashemi is one of the country's most prominent Sunni politicians.

Maliki accused al-Hashemi this week of running a death squad and put out an arrest warrant for him.

Al-Hashemi denied the allegations and fled to Erbil in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, under the protection of the regional government.

Maliki has demanded al-Hashemi return to Baghdad, but al-Hashemi said he would not because he could not receive a fair trial there. The Kurdish government offered no sign Thursday it would heed Maliki's demand to extradite al-Hashemi, the Times said.

Al-Hashemi told the BBC the attacks occurred because the government was too busy chasing "patriotic politicians" like himself instead of hunting down terrorists.

"The security services are pointed in the wrong direction," he said.

Maliki added new tension to the political climate Wednesday by threatening to discard Iraq's fragile power-sharing government.

Earlier this week, Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, accused Hashemi, a Sunni, of running a hit squad targeting government officials during the height of sectarian strife in the country. In a press conference on Wednesday, Maliki went further, casting doubt on the sustainability of power-sharing in Iraq by threatening to replace the current unity government with a majority government if Hashemi's largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc doesn't end a boycott of parliament and the cabinet. The political crisis has sparked concern about sectarian violence returning to Iraq just days after the last U.S. troops withdrew from the country.

Hashemi has vehemently denied the charges against him, arguing that they are politically motivated and yet another effort by Maliki to consolidate power. When asked if Maliki has become a Saddam-like figure since assuming power in 2006, as fellow Iraqiya leaders Saleh al-Mutlak and Iyad Allawi have suggested, Hashemi noted that "many of Saddam's behaviors are now being exercised by Maliki unfortunately." But he added that Saddam rebuilt Iraq in six months after the invasion of Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s. In contrast, under Maliki's leadership, Hashemi pointed out, the consulting firm Mercer ranked Baghdad the worst city in the world in terms of quality of life.

And there's no question in his mind that Maliki is to blame.

The Obama administration is working behind the scenes to resolve the crisis, but there are few signs of success. CNN reports that CIA Director David Petraeus has met with Maliki, and Vice President Joe Biden has urged Iraqi leaders to work together to avoid sectarian strife. But Hashemi, who calls himself a "friend" of the United States, isn't impressed with the U.S. response thus far. He wants a full-throated condemnation of what he sees as Maliki's flaunting of democracy. "I am not asking the United States to interfere in my internal issues," he said. "But the United States is a partner in building democracy in Iraq. And they should continue their role until they are satisfied that Iraq is becoming a model of democracy in the Middle East."

In an editorial earlier this week, the Washington Post urged the Obama administration to inform Maliki that "an alliance cannot be maintained with an Iraqi government that pursues a sectarian agenda or seeks authoritarian power." Obama's outgoing military adviser for Iraq told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin Tuesday that U.S. officials have communicated to Iraqi leaders that "it's imperative that the process moving forward happen with full transparency and within the rule of law."

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