Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is asking lawmakers to withdraw confidence from his deputy after Saleh al-Mutlaq made controversial comments this week over American forces withdrawing from Iraq, state media reported late Saturday.
In a recent interview with CNN, al-Mutlaq accused al-Maliki of amassing dictatorial power.
“There will be a day whereby the Americans will realize that they were deceived by al-Maliki … and they will regret that,” said al-Mutlaq, a leader within Iraqiya movement.
The request followed word that the Iraqiya coalition was boycotting the country’s parliament — a move that would threaten Iraq’s fragile power-sharing arrangement.
The crisis pits al-Maliki, a Shiite, against Iraqiya, a powerful political bloc that enjoys support from Sunnis and more secular Iraqis.
Also at issue were reports that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi for masterminding a recent car bombing targeting the parliament.
Ali al-Mussawi, al-Maliki’s media adviser, said there were confessions that linked the Sunni vice president to the bombing.
Al-Mussawi dismissed the notion that linking al-Hashimi to terrorism was politically motivated. He would not confirm whether an arrest warrant had indeed been issued, saying that was a matter for the judiciary.
The Iraqiya bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, made its move Friday night. The bloc is one of the largest and most powerful political groups in Iraq and boasts among its members the speaker of the parliament. The bloc had been in a power-sharing deal with al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, backed mostly by Shiites.
Iraqiya accuses al-Maliki of trying to consolidate his own power rather than share it.
His rivals say, for example, that he still controls the country’s security ministries and all decisions go through him. They also say that the hundreds of people seized by the government in October for backing terrorism and supporting the banned Baath Party are Iraqiya supporters.
Iraqiya spokesman Haider al-Mulla said the bloc has always warned about the deal’s risks and says the State of Law Alliance has been violating the law.
“Iraqiya has always expressed its rejection to the policy of exclusion and marginalization, lack of power sharing, politicization of the judiciary, the lack of balance within the government institutions,” al-Mulla said.
Al-Maliki won a second term as prime minister in 2010 after a months-long dispute among the leading parties in the country’s parliamentary elections. The largely secular Iraqiya movement won two more seats than al-Maliki’s party, but a merger of the premier’s Shiite Muslim slate with a smaller Shiite bloc put him first in line to form a government.
There had been fears of renewed bloodshed between Iraq’s majority Shiite and minority Sunni populations and that prompted U.S. officials to work out a power-sharing agreement, bringing the Iraqiya movement into the government.
Al-Mutlaq told CNN that Washington is leaving Iraq “with a dictator” who has ignored a power-sharing agreement, kept control of the country’s security forces and rounded up hundreds of people in recent weeks.
He said he was “shocked” to hear U.S. President Barack Obama greet al-Maliki at the White House on Monday as “the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq.”
“America left Iraq with almost no infrastructure. The political process is going in a very wrong direction, going toward a dictatorship,” he said. “People are not going to accept that, and most likely they are going to ask for the division of the country. And this is going to be a disaster. Dividing the country isn’t going to be smooth, because dividing the country is going to be a war before that and a war after that.”
Neighboring Iran, predominantly Shiite and led by a Shiite regime, views al-Maliki as its man in Baghdad and has dictated the shape of the current government, al-Mutlaq said. But he said al-Maliki is playing games with both Washington and Tehran.
The last U.S. troops are scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of December, nearly nine years after the 2003 invasion that topped Saddam Hussein. More than 4,000 Americans and an estimated 115,000 Iraqis died in the invasion and the years of insurgency and sectarian warfare that followed.
A Sunni who was originally barred from running because of allegations that he supported Hussein’s Baath Party, al-Mutlaq said he has no authority within the government.
He said al-Maliki has flouted the power-sharing deal’s provisions by refusing to name permanent ministers to lead the defense and interior ministries, which concentrates control over the military and police in the prime minister’s hands.
He said U.S. officials, who brokered the power-sharing deal, either “don’t know anything in Iraq and they don’t know what is happening in Iraq, or because they don’t want to admit the reality in Iraq, the failure in Iraq, the failure of this political process that they set in Iraq.”
Along with Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds are a major player in Iraqi politics.
Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament, said lawmakers discussed the Iraqiya move on Saturday and said it reflects “a level of mistrust between the blocs, the government, Iraqiya and others.
“The problem is that Maliki isn’t sharing any security decisions with Iraqiya, he doesn’t trust them and this is a big problem,” he said. “Power-sharing was never power-sharing. We are in a government of conflict. Power-sharing was never successful.
“The Kurds don’t want to take sides, we want them (Iraqiya and State of Law Alliance) to get together to solve their problems.”
He is worried that the problem could morph into fighting between Sunnis and Shiites or violence against the government.
“This isn’t just political,” he said. “It’s sectarian.”