NEW: Nuri al-Maliki says an "alternative" must be sought if the government is "paralyzed"
The Kurdish region is part of Iraq but semi-autonomous
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is wanted for allegedly organizing a death squad
A rival bloc is pursuing action for a new prime minister
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned the county’s Kurdish government Wednesday that it is responsible for handing over Iraq’s vice president to the judiciary in Baghdad, part of a controversy portending the breakup of the nation’s fragile power-sharing agreement.
“First of all, Iraq is one country,” al-Maliki said. “It is the duty of all parts of a federal state to hand over a wanted individual,” he added, referring to the Kurdish Regional Government’s semi-autonomous federal status.
Tariq al-Hashimi, the county’s Sunni vice president, is wanted for allegedly organizing a death squad targeting government and military officials. He denies the charges against him and says the accusations are politically charged, amid the rivalry between his Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc and al-Maliki’s Shiite political movement.
Now in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, al-Hashimi said he wants the case to be transferred to that territory because of its neutrality. He held a news conference Tuesday in the Kurdish city of Irbil, where he disputed the charges and called on Arab League observers and attorneys from the Arab Lawyers Union to guarantee the fairness of any proceeding against him.
Al-Maliki said failing to hand over al-Hashimi or allowing him to flee to another country “could cause problems.”
“We ask our brothers in the (Kurdistan) Regional Government to take responsibility and hand over the accused to the judiciary, especially because they have seen the case,” al-Maliki said. “We do not wish for the (Kurdistan) regional government to appear as if it is facilitating for an individual wanted by the law.”
He also rejected al-Hashimi’s claim that the case is political. He scoffed at notions that the Arab League would be involved and that the case would be tried in the Kurdish region. He also said al-Hashimi has no immunity, according to the country’s constitution.
“This is a judicial case. … It is decided by the judiciary, full stop,” al-Maliki said. “We provided a fair and honest trial for Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein, and we will guarantee and ensure a fair trial for Mr. Tariq al-Hashimi.” Al-Maliki was referring to the trial of the late dictator, which was viewed by many international observers as flawed.
The warrant is the latest in a series of events that have threatened to destroy Iraq’s power-sharing agreement among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, raising fears about the stability of the country even as the last of U.S. troops are withdrawn. The arrest warrant was issued just days after Iraqiya suspended its participation in Parliament amid claims it was being cut out of the political process.
The Iraqiya bloc, cross-sectarian as well as Sunni-backed, has castigated the al-Maliki government for shunning cooperation despite the power-sharing arrangement. It said it is considering sending a request to parliamentary leaders to withdraw support for al-Maliki and come up with a new prime minister to form a post-occupation government.
Iraqiya has not officially announced it was boycotting Cabinet meetings or pulling out of the government, but a number of its ministers did not attend the government’s Cabinet meeting this week.
Al-Maliki said not attending would be considered a resignation. If they don’t return and reconsider their stances, they will be replaced by acting ministers.
He said Iraqiya members are free to do what they want, but he would like to see them in Parliament and in the government. He also raised the issue of the power-sharing arrangement falling through.
“This is our desire, but if they insist, they are free and can completely pull out from all of the state’s institutions,” al-Maliki said.” But the government will have to move on, and if it cannot move on, it is a paralyzed government that must end, and we would have to think of an alternative.”