Iraqi minister accuses Shi'ite prime minister of crackdown

Thu Dec 20, 2012 6:50pm EST
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By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Sunni Muslim finance minister on Thursday accused the Shi'ite prime minister of targeting his bodyguards and staff, threatening to rekindle a political crisis a year after American troops left.

The incident came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who often mediated among the country's fractious Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish blocks, left for Germany after suffering a stroke that may remove him from politics.

Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya block, said bodyguards and staff were snatched illegally, and blamed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite.

"My message to the prime minister is that you are a man who does not believe in partnership and does not respect the law and the constitution," Esawi said in a late night press conference.

"You want me to believe Maliki had no idea about this? No, this happened with previous planning and intent."

A ministry of interior spokesman, Col. Saad Ma'an, said part of Esawi's security detail had been detained.

The incident seemed reminiscent of a year ago when Iraqi authorities sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, accusing him of running death squads, in a move that sparked a crisis just as the last American troops packed up.

That case plunged the country's power-sharing agreement among Shi'ite Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Kurds into turmoil, with Sunni politicians boycotting parliament. Hashemi later fled the country and was sentenced to death in absentia.   Continued...