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Could Iraq descend into a civil war again? (VIDEO)

The scars of Iraq's painful bloodletting are deep, and a powerful disincentive against a return to open warfare. But Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is moving against Sunni Arabs, his political enemies.

By Staff writer / December 20, 2011



It's been less than three days since the last US combat troops left Iraq. But in the interim, the cold war in Iraq's parliament between the main Sunni Arab political bloc and the coalition of Shiite parties behind Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has veered toward open political combat and dramatically heightened the risk of a full return to civil war. Whatever restraining influence the US once had appears to be gone.

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Iraqiyya, the largely Sunni bloc of Iyad Allawi, has withdrawn its legislators from parliament, armored personnel carriers manned by loyalists of Prime Minister Maliki have been stationed outside the homes of some of his political opponents, and the government has leveled serious terrorism charges against one of the most prominent Sunni politicians in the country – Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlak, a fellow Sunni, has also been targeted to be ousted from his post by Maliki's allies in Parliament.

Desperate negotiations are currently under way to head off what could easily become Iraq's most serious political crisis in years. Vice President Hashemi's plane was held on the tarmac of Baghdad's airport for a few hours on Sunday, with the government insisting he was barred from leaving the capital pending the outcome of a terrorism investigation. He was eventually allowed to fly to Irbil, in Kurdistan, where Kurdish leaders are trying to ward off a political collapse that could push Iraq back to open warfare.

Yesterday, the government issued a warrant for Mr. Hashemi's arrest, accusing him of running a death squad that targets security officials. Speaking to reporters in Irbil today, where he's now in de facto exile from Baghdad, Hashemi called the charges "fabricated.... Maliki is behind the whole issue ... all the efforts that have been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone."

Hashemi, an Islamist rather than a former Baathist, said he'd be willing to face trial in Kurdistan – an indirect charge that the federal judiciary is tainted by political manipulation. Iraqi TV carried footage of guards of Hashemi "confessing," though torture and coerced confessions have been commonplace in Iraq for years. 

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