Sectarian tensions are on the rise in Iraq again today, as thousands of Sunnis take to the streets across the nation’s north to condemn Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s attempts at centralizing power. A smaller Shi’ite rally was reported in Baghdad demanding the immediate capture of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of terrorism.
Hashemi issued a statement blasting Maliki over yesterday’s massive bombing campaign in Baghdad, saying that the prime minister is too focused on “chasing patriotic politicians” to make serious efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.
Maliki has been seeking to arrest Hashemi all week, accusing the top Sunni politician of being behind a terrorist assassination wing. The move has led to allegations that Maliki is using his control over the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry to try to arrest any political rivals.
Indeed, Maliki’s immediate reaction to the criticism he faced over trying to oust and capture Hashemi was to demand that one of his other top critics, Deputy PM Saleh al-Mutlaq, also resign, and he is now also accusing the Finance Minister, another top Sunni, of being involved in another assassination campaign.
A rare show of support for Maliki, however, came from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top Shi’ite religious figure in the nation. In a sermon given by his top aide, the bombings were blamed on political factions which had left the coalition government (Iraqiya and the Kurdish blocs), while saying in an apparent reference to the charges against Hashemi that the “prestige of the government must be preserved” and that “part of tits prestige is punishing abusers.”
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