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- Sunday, December 23, 2012 - From Print Edition


BAGHDAD: With President Jalal Talabani being treated in Germany after a stroke, Iraq is without a key mediator as a new political crisis brews between the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc and the Shia premier.


Talabani’s stroke may in itself also spark turmoil — his resignation or death could cause a protracted dispute over his successor.


The 79-year-old has sought to bring together feuding politicians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, during political crises that have plagued Iraq.


After at least nine of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi’s guards were arrested for alleged terrorism offences on Thursday, Talabani’s mediation skills will be sorely missed.


Essawi, a Sunni member of Iraqiya, told a news conference a “militia force” raided the ministry and his home “in an illegal act, without a judicial order,” held Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki responsible and demanded that he quit.


Essawi spoke to journalists alongside parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, fellow Iraqiya members. Maliki, meanwhile, expressed “astonishment” at “linking the issue of the detainees with political disputes” and “trying to pull the whole country toward sectarian strife.”


He slammed the idea that the arrests were sectarian, and warned of past years of bloody confessional violence.


“Have you forgotten the day we were collecting bodies from the streets? Have you forgotten the day we were collecting severed heads from the streets?” he asked.


Iraqiya and other members of Maliki’s unstable national unity government have accused him of concentrating power in his own hands and moving towards dictatorship, leading to calls for his removal from office.


Maliki’s opponents ultimately lacked the parliamentary votes to remove him, but Essawi called on Thursday for no-confidence proceedings to be reopened.


The arrest of Essawi’s guards comes almost exactly a year after Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi’s guards were arrested and accused of terrorism.