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Iraqi vice president predicts return to sectarian violence

From Mohammed Tawfeeq and Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
updated 7:53 PM EST, Mon January 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • He accuses al-Maliki of "pushing my country to reach a turning point"
  • The violence could require the return of U.S. forces, he says
  • "The future of Iraq is grim," he adds

Irbil, Iraq (CNN) -- Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has lashed out at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, predicting that Iraq could soon return to widespread sectarian violence that could require the return of U.S. forces.

"Al-Maliki is pushing my country to reach a turning point with deeply sectarian dimension," the Sunni vice president told CNN on Sunday during an interview in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north, where he has fled so that government forces loyal to the Shiite prime minister cannot execute an arrest warrant for him on charges of running a death squad.

He expressed concern that Americans "will face the same problem as they faced in 2003," when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and unleashing a wave of sectarian violence.

And he said he did not understand how U.S. President Barack Obama is able to characterize Iraq as a free, stable and democratic country.

"What sort of Iraq we are talking about?" he asked. "How the Americans will feel proud? How the American administration is going to justify to the taxpayer the billion of dollars that has been spent and at the end of the day the American saying, 'Sorry, we have no leverage even to put things in order in Iraq'?"

Though Iraq's instability may not affect this year's election campaign in the United States, "it is going to affect the American interest in the region, and they should be very much concern about that," al-Hashimi said. "The future of Iraq is grim."

The arrest warrant for al-Hashimi was issued last year, days after the Sunni majority bloc Iraqiya suspended its participation in Parliament amid that claims it was being cut out of the political process. The bloc ended that boycott on Sunday as a "gesture of goodwill." But a separate boycott of the Cabinet remains in place.

Iraqi VP: Sectarian violence to return

Al-Hashimi denied the charges against him as politically motivated. He accused al-Maliki of having "put my home and my office under siege" during the three months before he fled to the Dokan resort about 400 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad.

"I kept patient on that, hoping that al-Maliki is going to behave sensibly sometime, and things aggravated," al-Hashimi said.

Asked whether al-Maliki is becoming a dictator, al-Hashimi was blunt: "What sort of explanation could I give for a real and serious power consolidation?" he asked. "What could the average Iraqi people or the American citizen ... say for the prime minister to be chief in command, the minister of defense, the minister of interior and the chief of the national security?"

The charges appear to have been based on the confessions of three security guards for al-Hashimi. Iraqi state-run TV has aired video of the men's confessions. CNN cannot independently verify their identities.

An official in al-Hashimi's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, has said the men may have confessed under duress.

In one confession, a man detailed roadside bombings and shootings that targeted government and security officials in 2009. He said orders at times came directly from al-Hashimi and at times through his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, who is a senior member of his staff.

The man alleged that the vice president thanked him after a number of attacks.

The man in the video said al-Hashimi ordered him to map out security locations and checkpoints for the Baghdad Brigade, which protects the Green Zone. He said he was speaking out to "clear his conscience" and "expose this criminal."

Since October, Iraqi security forces have rounded up hundreds of people accused of being members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party or terrorists. The Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition says most of them belong to its political bloc and that the prime minister is simply taking out his opponents.

The political turmoil in Iraq has raised concerns in Washington, with officials saying they are monitoring the reports about the arrest warrant.

"We are talking to all of the parties. We've expressed our concern regarding these developments. We're urging all political sides in Iraq to work out their differences peaceably, politically, through dialogue, and certainly in a manner that is consistent with democratic political processes and international standards of rule of law," Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in December.

CNN's Yousuf Basil contributed to this story

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