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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned on Wednesday he will call for early elections if other political parties refuse to negotiate to end a crisis over power-sharing that threatens to revive sectarian tensions.
Iraq's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs have been locked in turmoil since the last U.S. troops left the country in December, with Maliki's critics now seeking a vote of no confidence against the Shi'ite leader.
A government spokesman said Maliki's statement was not an immediate call for early elections, but a signal from the prime minister to other political parties to negotiate over the ongoing crisis or face an early ballot.
"If the other party refuses to sit at the negotiating table and insists on creating crisis after crisis..., then the prime minister finds himself compelled to call early elections," a statement from Maliki's office said.
Maliki and his followers could make gains in new elections, given the fragmented nature of Sunni and Kurdish-backed parties.
While attacks and bombings have eased sharply, the political crisis has been accompanied this month by a spike in attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims and religious sites, a reminder of the country's darker days of violence.
Bombs planted around a Shi'ite politician's house killed seven people and wounded 21 others in Baghdad on Wednesday, police said, while a bomb at the home of a government-backed militiaman killed his wife and two of his daughters.
Iraq's next parliamentary election is not scheduled until 2014, but the current coalition government has been mired in political infighting since it was formed 18 months ago, after an inconclusive 2010 vote in the OPEC member country.
According to Iraq's constitution, the prime minister can petition the president's office to dissolve the parliament and trigger early elections within 60 days.
Opponents of Maliki accuse the former Arabic language teacher of accumulating power and say he has failed to fulfill agreements to share government ministries, especially the sensitive defense and interior ministries.
"If democracy serves his interest, he becomes democratic, but if democracy intersects with his interests, he starts to talk in the style of a dictator," MP Haider al-Mulla, from the main Iraqiya opposition party, said.
He said his party would respect the choice of the majority and called on Maliki to respect the constitution.
Maliki has so far fended off attempts to oust him because the mainly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Kurdish lawmakers and some of the prime minister's Shi'ite allies are struggling to clinch support from the absolute majority of lawmakers needed to trigger a vote of no confidence.
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami,; Writing by Patrick Markey, editing by Diana Abdallah