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Vice-President arrested on terrorism charges--Barzani fears collapse of the political process.

--Vice-President Arrested on Terrorism Charges

--Barzani Fears Collapse of the Political Process

The Iraqi judiciary on Monday issued an arrest warrant for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of terrorism, reported the pan-Arab daily AL HAYAT Tuesday. A judicial source said that a high-level "five person judicial body" issued the memo "in accordance with Article 4 on terrorism." He is prevented from traveling and his bodyguards were arrested on Monday and Sunday.

The Iraqiya coalition has suspended its participation in government and boycotted ministerial meetings, asking the Nationalist Coalition, which includes the Sadrist trend, Ammar al-Hakim and Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Party to nominate Ibrahim al-Jaafari as the new president of the government. Iraqiya held a meeting Monday evening to discuss the issue while U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey urged them not to withdraw from government. As Iraqiya was meeting, security forces stormed Hashemi's house and detained a number of his guards, as well as elements belonging to another Iraqiya leader and MP, Salman Jumaili. Prior to escalating the political drama against Hashemi, Maliki asked parliament to dismiss his deputy, al-Mutlaq, wrote the daily.

The completion of the U.S. withdrawal on Sunday left many Iraqis fearful that a shaky peace deal between majority Shiites and minority Sunnis might collapse and reignite sectarian violence. Many Sunnis, who were in power under Saddam, feel shunted aside by the rise of Shiites after the invasion. Already some Sunni-dominated regions in Iraq are seeking more autonomy from the central government, chaffing against what they see as an increasingly authoritarian tack taken by Maliki.

Hashemi and Mutlaq are both leaders of the Iraqiya bloc, a secular group backed by minority Sunnis, which joined Maliki's unity government only reluctantly and recently boycotted parliament sessions after complaining of being marginalized

The move risks unraveling Iraq's fragile power-sharing deal among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs who have struggled to overcome tensions just a few years after sectarian slaughter drove the country to the edge of a civil war. Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Adel Daham, told a news conference confessions by suspects identified as Hashemi's bodyguards linked the vice president to killings and attacks on Iraqi government and security officials.

Meanwhile, Masoud Barzani, President of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, held a press conference to address the crisis, expressing his fears of a collapse in the political process. "What happened is a matter of serious concern since it deals with Vice-President of the republic, Khoder al-Tareq al-Hashemi, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Finance Minister Rafie al-lssawi," he said. The incident he said was handled "in an irresponsible and inappropriate way, even if it was for security reasons." He urged for the judiciary to investigate and warned both sides against exploiting the issue. Hashemi is currently in the KRG.

Iraqiya's political leadership met with Barzani to ascertain the Kurdish position before taking further steps. Maliki's National Alliance has 159 seats out of 325 in parliament and is unable to form a majority government without the Kurds, who have 46 seats.

Sources within the government fear a coup from both officers and politicians inside and outside the Green Zone. One senior security official told AL HAYAT, "The escalation, which coincided with the U.S. withdrawal and the arrests of hundreds of Baathists and former officers, has reached senior state officials like Hashemi, Mutlaq and Issawi, leading security forces to besiege their homes and offices." He added that the government had received information, possibly from Syria or the interim Libyan government, on a possible armed coup by Baathists and Iraqi leaders in Iraqiya to coincide with the U.S. Withdrawal.

Independent politicians inside the Green Zone, which has seen a recent intensifying presence of the armed forces, say that this is "a deliberate escalation against Maliki's opponents to show his ability to manage the affairs of the country without U.S. Forces." They also see it as a move to pressure Sunni Arabs, who support Iraqiya, to make concessions on outstanding issues of dispute such as disagreements over the security ministries, regional autonomy and the government coalition, where in any case Maliki will be the winner.
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Title Annotation:IRAQ-POLITICS
Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Dec 20, 2011
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