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Sunni vice president criticizes Iraqi government

Iraq’s Sunni vice president Tariq al-Hashemi said he plans to tell President Bush of his “dismay” over the Shiite-led government’s handling of security during their meeting Tuesday in the White House.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraq’s Sunni vice president said he plans to tell President Bush of his “dismay” over the Shiite-led government’s handling of security during their meeting Tuesday in the White House.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi accused the government of not doing enough to deal with militia attacks and said he was especially concerned about Baghdad, where Sunni-Shiite violence has flared in several neighborhoods in recent days.

“Slow and inadequate action is a problem that we have been facing with this government since it was formed,” al-Hashemi said Monday in an interview with Baghdad TV, the mouthpiece of his Iraqi Islamic Party.

Al-Hashemi, one of two vice presidents, has been a sharp critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. He has recently been joined by senior Kurdish and Shiite politicians, some from within the ruling coalition, in what is by far the most intense anti-government campaign since al-Maliki took office in May.

New woes for al-Maliki
With 30 lawmakers and five cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr boycotting the government and parliament for nearly two weeks, Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani added to al-Maliki’s troubles on Monday.

A Sunni Arab and a sharp government critic, al-Mashhadani suspended his membership in a top-level state policy council. He walked out from a council meeting Monday after a heated argument with President Jalal Talabani over the Iraq Study Group report, according to the speaker’s spokesman, Mohannad Abdul-Jabar. The specifics of their disagreement was not disclosed.

“This government cannot continue in office if its failure to deal with problems continue,” prominent Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman said in an interview. “The prime minister keeps saying that his hands are tied. If this is the case, then he should resign.”

‘No move afoot to dump him’
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday that no plans were under way to replace al-Maliki, whose time in office has been defined by a surge in sectarian violence and lack of progress in improving services, curbing soaring unemployment and crime.

“There is no move afoot to dump him,” said Snow. “And, furthermore, last week’s meetings with Mr. al-Hakim were designed to bolster the Maliki government by putting together a group of moderates — the meeting was designed to do that.”

Bush met with senior Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim in Washington on Dec. 4, four days after the president held talks with al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan. Al-Hashemi was originally scheduled to go to the White House next month but he unexpectedly left for Washington on Sunday.

The boycott by the Sadrists is a protest against the al-Maliki-Bush meeting. The Sadrists have said they would return only after the announcement of a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq. Deepening al-Maliki’s predicament, al-Sadr himself made a scathing attack against the government Sunday.

Al-Hashemi and al-Hakim have been linked to behind-the-scenes efforts by al-Maliki’s main coalition partners to form a new parliamentary bloc that would replace the alliance now supporting the government, according to Omar Abdul-Sattar of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Hameed Maalah of al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as SCIRI.

New bloc could topple government
Iraq’s constitution stipulates that the largest bloc in parliament receives a mandate from the president to form a government. The lawmakers have said the proposed bloc would be made up of SCIRI, Iraq’s two major Kurdish parties, al-Hashemi’s Islamic party and independents.

It would have enough support in the 275-seat parliament to topple the government, they said. Abdul-Sattar said the new bloc could be formed by early next year.

They said the door would be open for al-Maliki’s Dawa party and Fadhila, another Shiite party, to join the proposed bloc — but not supporters of al-Sadr, whose lawmakers helped the prime minister secure his job last spring. Radical Sunnis, they added, would also be kept out.

Bush expressed his confidence in al-Maliki after their Jordan meeting, but said four days later that he was not happy with the pace of efforts to stop Iraq’s violence.

A confidential White House memo leaked last month questioned al-Maliki’s ability to deal with Iraq’s violence, and the Iraq Study Group report, prepared by a bipartisan commission, recommended that Washington should reduce military and political support to his government if it fails to make progress in curbing the violence.