Iraqi security forces have detained 16 of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi’s bodyguards, according to the interior ministry, in the latest attempt to incriminate him.
Hashemi is in hiding in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region after Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered him detained on trumped up terrorism charges, in a broader plan to marginalize Sunni authorities in government.
“Interior ministry security forces detained 16 members of Vice President of the Republic Tareq al-Hashemi’s guard, who were practicing assassinations with silenced rifles and pistols targeting interior ministry officers and judges,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.
Hashemi’s office denounced the detentions and said the government’s claims do “not represent anything new in the series of fabricated accusations, and will not attract the attention of the Iraqi people.”
Maliki’s security forces have detained and brutally tortured more than 1,000 political opponents in secret prisons and denied them access to legal counsel. Ayad Allawi, another political opponent of Maliki, has alleged that Maliki aims to extract false confessions that implicate his political rivals and justify taking legal action against them. Indeed, some of the confessions obtained through torture made allegations against Allawi and Hashemi.
Maliki’s turn towards dictatorship sharpened almost immediately after U.S. occupation forces left in December. He has circumvented Parliament, consolidated illegitimate power in a long trend of quasi-dictatorial behavior, harshly cracked down on peaceful activism, harassed and even attacked journalists that were critical of his regime, and recently betrayed an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize his Sunni rivals.
This has coincided with rising sectarian violence in Iraq, with dozens of deadly attacks between Sunni and Shia in the last weeks of December and throughout January. Allawi and many other prominent figures in the country have said Maliki is tearing the country apart, despite continuing to receive enthusiastic U.S. support.