BAGHDAD — Iraq’s political blocs held their first talks yesterday since the start of a crisis that risks reviving sectarian violence and scuttling a power-sharing government.
Tensions are high after Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s government sought the arrest of a vice-president on terrorism charges, spinning the country into political turmoil days after the last American troops left in December.
Political leaders are negotiating over a national conference with Maliki’s National Alliance coalition, and the Iraqiya and Kurdish blocs which divide up government posts in their uneasy power-sharing deal.
Maliki, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the speaker of parliament Osama al Nujaifi met briefly yesterday, agreeing on another meeting in a week, but not settling on a date or details for the conference.
“Next Sunday we will start a work plan on the problems which will be discussed,” said Bahaa al Araji, the head of cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s bloc, who attended the meeting.
Araji said committees formed from the main political blocs would likely need a month to assess the problems and set a date.
Talks may allow the government to survive, but fundamental differences have hampered it from deciding on key issues like naming defence and interior ministries and concluding a vital oil law since the government was formed a year ago.
Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, Iraqi politics are often a slow burn of backroom meetings and negotiations. The formation of the power-sharing government took almost a year of horse-trading over posts after an inconclusive 2010 election.
Iraqiya has already boycotted the parliament and several of its ministers have refused to attend cabinet meetings since the arrest warrant was issued for Vice-President Tareq al Hashemi. But other Iraqiya ministers are still working, illustrating the deep splits in the bloc.
Violence has ebbed since the darker days of the conflict following the 2003 invasion, but attacks on pilgrims and other targets since the crisis erupted are fuelling worries the country may slip back into sectarian carnage.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s majority have ascended, and many feel they have been marginalised from the days when they once dominated the country.
Maliki says the charges Hashemi ran a death squad are a judicial and not a political move.
The leader often accuses partners of obstructing the government’s work.
Hashemi, who has denied the allegations, has refused to return to Baghdad from Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, saying he cannot get a fair trial in the capital.
A federal court panel yesterday rejected Hashemi’s request to have his case moved to Kirkuk, a spokesman for the supreme judicial council said. Hashemi could be tried in absentia. — Reuters