(Updates with State Department and analyst comments starting in sixth paragraph.)
Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Iraqi political bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for parliament to be dissolved and new elections held as sectarian tensions increase.
“The existing political partners cannot reach solutions and there are blocs carrying out foreign agendas while others work with terror,” said Baha al-Araji, head of the al-Ahrar bloc, which has 39 seats in the 325-member parliament.
Tensions between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite- led allies and Sunni politicians have intensified since a warrant was issued last week for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, on terrorism charges.
The case comes amid concern that the pullout of U.S. troops will leave a security vacuum in Iraq, which seeks investment and expertise to develop the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves. Iraqi crude oil production has jumped to the highest level in at least 20 years, or more than 3 million barrels a day, Hussain al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy affairs, said Dec. 22.
“The issue in Iraq will not be resolved without the house’s dissolution,” Mowathiq al-Hashemi of the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies in Baghdad said in a telephone interview today. “However, I believe this is nothing but an attempt to impose pressure. Many of the lawmakers are certain that they would not keep their seats if elections take place amidst such poor parliamentary performance.”
The U.S. would oppose dissolution of the Iraqi parliament, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said today.
“The political parties need to work out their differences,” Toner said. “There’s an urgency to the situation. These folks need to sit down in a shared fashion and address these issues.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the best way to diffuse the rising political tensions in Iraq would be for al-Maliki to appoint people outside his own party to the ministries of interior and defense, and by allowing international participation in a panel to look into the charges against al- Hashimi.
Seek to Divide
In a speech to mark the end of American operations in Iraq on Dec. 15, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Iraq would be tested by terrorism and those who seek to divide.
A series of bombings on Dec. 23 targeting civilians killed at least 57 people in Baghdad and injured 176. The blasts took place in mainly Shiite neighborhoods.
Al-Hashimi’s political bloc, Iraqiya, which draws support from Sunnis, announced the suspension of its participation in parliament on Dec. 17 to protest what it says is the arrest of its members. Iraqiya is led by Ayad Allawi.
Al-Maliki said Dec. 21 that his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni who had described him as a dictator in a recent television interview, was on “extended leave.”
Al-Hashimi, who fled to the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan, denied all charges on Dec. 20, questioned the motivation of the accusations and said the case was timed to coincide with the U.S. forces’ withdrawal.
Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia had clashed with Iraqi and U.S. forces, returned to Iraq on Jan. 5 after an absence of almost four years. He has pledged to combat any form of U.S. presence in Iraq, except for an official embassy, beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of American troops.
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