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As US troops exit Iraq, Maliki moves against Sunni rivals

Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, briefly arrested the Sunni vice president yesterday and has urged a vote of no confidence against the Sunni deputy premier.

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In a second crisis, tangentially related to the case against Hashimi, Maliki formally asked the Iraqi parliament on Sunday to vote no confidence in Mutlaq, after the vice premier called the prime minister "a dictator" during a CNN television interview.

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The Iraqiya bloc, which shares power with the Maliki's State of Law alliance and others, announced Saturday that it would boycott parliamentary sessions on the grounds that it has been "marginalized" by Maliki. The move by Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi, Maliki's chief political rival, came a day after Maliki told political leaders that he would seek Mutlaq's ouster.

On Sunday, Iraqiya escalated its threat, warning that if Maliki goes ahead with the vote, Iraqiya will withdraw its ministers from the coalition government.

Maliki's move against Mutlaq appeared to be largely a case of pique. A Baghdad-born former officer in the military of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, Mutlaq until two years ago had headed the Iraqi Islamic party, the biggest Sunni bloc, which has six members in parliament.

Counterterror police staged a raid on the Islamist party several weeks ago, but it wasn't clear if the evidence they turned up actually incriminated the party in terrorist or criminal acts.

US urges transparency

By contrast, the case against Hashimi may have some substance. Iraqi national police claimed it had reason to implicate Hashimi's security detail following a tip early this month that one guard was building a car bomb in his house. Police raided the home southeast of Baghdad and found the car bomb and more supplies suggesting he was an active insurgent.

Under interrogation, the first suspect named other alleged participants. Police arrested a second man who is alleged to have confessed to taking part in terror activities.

A third guard came to police headquarters to inquire about the whereabouts of his two colleagues and was arrested while attempting to flee. He was alleged to have identified two more guards in the operations.

Iraq's Interior Ministry announced Saturday that it would televise the confessions of the first two suspects that night, but the plan touched off a firestorm. The US embassy, silent for most of the past year in the face of other political excesses, objected publicly. It said in a statement that US officials had not yet seen the actual confessions and urged Iraq to investigate all allegations "in a transparent manner in accordance with Iraqi law."

On Sunday, Iraq's supreme judicial authority ruled that the confessions of the alleged "cell" members couldn't be aired until the investigation is completed.

 McClatchy special correspondents Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi contributed.

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