Middle East

Iraq at a 'crossroads,' fugitive vice-president says

Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi (C). (AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC)

ANKARA: Iraq has reached a "crossroads," its fugitive vice-president told AFP Friday but strongly rejected the country's partition amid a deepening crisis stoking sectarian tensions.

"I could say easily we have reached a crossroad and this time we should opt for a tailor-made political solution to the current crisis," Tariq al-Hashemi said in a telephone interview.

The Sunni vice-president has sought refuge in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region after he was accused by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of running death squads against Shiites -- a charge he denies.

Speaking in English, Hashemi held the Iraqi premier, a Shiite, responsible for the current crisis which he said was "really unique" compared to previous ones since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 and it required "unique solutions."

"Unfortunately Maliki is becoming the core of the problem," said Hashemi, accusing him of consolidating power and marginalizing his coalition partners from the decision-making process.

Iraq has been mired in political crisis since U.S. forces withdrew from the country on December 18, pitting the Shiite-dominated government against Sunni rivals and much of the sectarian violence is shaped along Sunni-Shiite fractions.

Hashemi is currently in Istanbul under the protection of Turkish authorities before his "permanent stay in Kurdistan," which he said would happen in the near future.

Iraq's regional Kurdish government led by Massud Barzani is also locked in a dispute with Maliki over territorial claims and the control of the region's rich energy sources.

Barzani had earlier accused the Maliki government of monopolizing power and preparing the ground for a return to dictatorship while calling for a meeting of Iraqi leaders to "save" Iraq from its current political woes.

"The agenda which has been announced by Mr Barzani is quite clear," said Hashemi. "If Maliki declines to show up, we will definitely go for other options. A vote of confidence might be" one of them.

Hashemi said: "We could enjoy a prime minister from the Shiite national alliance on the ground that he is committed to power sharing ... and he keeps all Iraqis equally according to the constitution.

"This is all what we are dreaming, this is all what we are looking for."

But the Iraqi vice-president doubted that Maliki would change his policies.

"If Maliki insists on his unacceptable marginalisation policy and if he continues power consolidation which is no way acceptable, then definitely the majority of political entities is going to go for a vote of confidence," he said.

But he warned against partition.

"This subject in fact is not on the table," he said when asked if a division of Iraq was one of the options.

"I will not accept that one politician is going to push Iraq to an unknown future.... This is no way acceptable and partition is not on the table. I think this is even not under consideration by anybody."

Iraq's relations with Turkey have also deteriorated in recent months as the leaders of the two neighboring countries traded barbs, escalating regional strains.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Maliki of showing an "egocentric" approach in politics and monopolizing power and the Iraqi premier fired back, saying Turkey was becoming a "hostile state" in the region.

"I hope that this will be just a temporary setback in the Turkish-Iraqi bilateral future," said Hashemi of the Ankara-Baghdad tensions.

"We have much bigger and strategic interests... I am optimistic that we will overcome this problem in the future. But I must be frank on that: the ball is in the court of Maliki, not in Turkey."





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