December 20, 2012 / 11:57 PM / 7 years ago

Iraqi minister accuses Shi'ite prime minister of crackdown

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Sunni Muslim finance minister on Thursday accused the Shi’ite prime minister of targeting his bodyguards and staff, threatening to rekindle a political crisis a year after American troops left.

The incident came just hours after President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who often mediated among the country’s fractious Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish blocks, left for Germany after suffering a stroke that may remove him from politics.

Finance Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya block, said bodyguards and staff were snatched illegally, and blamed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite.

“My message to the prime minister is that you are a man who does not believe in partnership and does not respect the law and the constitution,” Esawi said in a late night press conference.

“You want me to believe Maliki had no idea about this? No, this happened with previous planning and intent.”

A ministry of interior spokesman, Col. Saad Ma’an, said part of Esawi’s security detail had been detained.

The incident seemed reminiscent of a year ago when Iraqi authorities sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, accusing him of running death squads, in a move that sparked a crisis just as the last American troops packed up.

That case plunged the country’s power-sharing agreement among Shi’ite Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Kurds into turmoil, with Sunni politicians boycotting parliament. Hashemi later fled the country and was sentenced to death in absentia.

Joined by other senior Sunni politicians, Esawi called for a vote of no confidence against Maliki.

The Shi’ite premier’s Sunni, Kurdish and some Shi’ite rivals tried earlier this year to organize a vote of no confidence against him. But the measure failed because Talabani did not back the vote and because of splits among Maliki’s foes.

Additional reporting by Asaad Al-Salhy; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Jason Webb

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