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Iraqi lawmakers reconvene amid political turmoil

By the CNN Wire Staff
January 3, 2012 -- Updated 0914 GMT (1714 HKT)
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has tenuous support among the Sunni population.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has tenuous support among the Sunni population.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraq is in the midst of a political crisis that has raised fears of a return to sectarian bloodshed
  • A key Shiite bloc has called for the dissolution of Parliament and early elections
  • The bloc is a vital ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite
  • Al-Maliki's relations with Sunnis are strained after he ordered the arrest of a Sunni vice president

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- The crisis-plagued Iraqi Parliament reconvenes Tuesday just over a week after a key Shiite bloc criticized the government and called for early elections.

Iraq is mired in a political crisis that has raised fears of a return of the sectarian bloodshed that nearly tore the country apart during the intensely violent years following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Before lawmakers went on a brief break at the end of last month, the bloc loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for the dissolution of Parliament and early elections.

The political turmoil erupted just days after U.S. troops withdrew from the country and as a fresh round of violence flared in Baghdad.

In an online statement, the head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc Baha'a al-Araji said Iraq is facing a new era with problems that rob the nation of stability and sovereignty.

The Sadrist bloc serves as a key ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

Al-Maliki managed to forge a fragile coalition and secure a second term in office because of backing from followers of al-Sadr, the powerful leader of the notorious Mehdi Army that fought some of the fiercest battles against U.S. forces.

Al-Maliki's tenuous support among Iraq's Sunnis, who feel marginalized by a Shiite-dominated government, was further strained after he ordered the arrest last month of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi on charges that he ordered bombings and assassinations.

With the Sadrist statement Monday, al-Maliki's hold on power appeared to be further eroding.

Al-Araji said he would submit the Sadrist proposal to the National Alliance, the dominant Shiite alliance that includes al-Maliki's coalition.

He said the Sadrist bloc made its decision for the sake of Iraqi unity. The bloc blamed al-Maliki's government for the failure to find a solution to the political turmoil.

A statement signed by al-Sadr said, "In my personal opinion, the creation of the kind of problems that we are seeing in this period will result in a situation that will harm the nation, its unity and its security."

Al-Sadr said the crisis could tarnish the prime minister's reputation and result in the consolidation of power with one-man rule.

He argued that it was the Iraqi people who were suffering the consequences of political squabbling and that such moves could also further isolate Iraq from its neighbors and the rest of the Arab world.

He ended the statement by saying that al-Hashimi's trial should be under parliamentary supervision and free of political influence.

Al-Hashimi said al-Maliki's charges against him were politically motivated and fled to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

His arrest warrant was issued just days after the Iraqiya bloc suspended its participation in Parliament amid claims it was being cut out of the political process. Iraqiya, a cross-sectarian as well as Sunni-backed bloc, castigated the al-Maliki government, saying it had shunned cooperation despite the power-sharing arrangement.

It said it is considering sending a request to parliamentary leaders to withdraw support for al-Maliki and come up with a new prime minister to form a post-occupation government.

There have also been mounting calls for federalism from at least three predominantly Sunni provinces, which al-Maliki has called a recipe for the partitioning of Iraq.

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