HARI SREENIVASAN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that Kurdish authorities hand over Iraq's vice president today. Tariq al-Hashemi is the highest-ranking Sunni figure in Iraq. He fled to the Kurdish north this week to escape an arrest warrant. The Shiite-dominated government charges he ran terror squads that targeted government officials. At a news conference in Baghdad today, Maliki rejected Hashemi's claim that the charges are politically motivated.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): I will not permit myself, others, or the relatives of martyrs to politicize this issue. There is only one path that will lead to the objective, and that is the path of the judiciary, nothing else. He should appear before court, either to be exonerated or to be convicted. The cause of al-Hashemi should not enter into political bargaining.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, a spokesman for the president of the Kurdish region rejected the demand. The political fight came as U.S. troops have finished their withdrawal from Iraq. Last night, Vice President Biden called Maliki and urged him to resolve the crisis.
We'll note this from Tony Karon (Time magazine) to pick on Joe Biden's efforts, "Vice President Joe Biden has been on the phone to Baghdad and Erbil this week, frantically trying to coax Iraq's main political players back from the brink of a new sectarian confrontation less than a week after the last U.S. troops departed. But Iraq's political leaders paid little heed to Washington's advice and entreaties when the U.S. had 140,000 troops there; they're even less likely to comply now. Biden reportedly sought to persuade Maliki to back away from a warrant issued by his government for the arrest of Iraq’s most senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, on allegations that he was involved in a bomb plot for which members of his security detail have been detained. But Iraq's Sunni leadership sees the warrant as part of Maliki's authoritarian crackdown against his opponents, with senior Sunni leaders systematically targeted for arrest by the Shi'ite-led government in recent months." Al Rafidayn quotes State of Law MP Omaima Younis stating that they welcome all input, including the US input, as long as it does not have to do with the charges Nouri has brought because that will be seen as an attempt to interfere with Iraq's judiciary. State of Law is Nouri's political slate. It came in second in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections, Iraqiya came in first and is headed by Ayad Allawi. Al Mada reports that Allawi declares that they are not Nouri's employees and that just because Nouri calls a meeting does not mean they have to attend. (Just as Moqtada al-Sadr calling in November for Nouri to appear before Parliament and answer questions about US forces has not meant that Nouri has appeared.) Allawi states that several polical bloc leaders -- including Allawi -- attended a meeting called by KRG President Massoud Barzani. In that meeting, it was called for the Erbil Agreement to be implemented and for the government go be the partnership it is supposed to be. But Nouri cannot call Parliament for this meeting or that because MPs are not employees of the authoritarian Nouri al-Maliki.
Joe Biden's not the only US official attempting to reason with Nouri. AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:
David Blair (Telegraph of London) provides a basic walk-through on what has been taking place this week and what may or may not be behind it. And Nouri continues to make threats and bluster. While Tareq al-Hashemi remains in the KRG, Nouri tries to intimdate the government there. Alsumaria TV notes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki warned Kurdistan Regional Government, on Wednesday, of allowing Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi to escape calling the government to hand him over. All evidence against Hashemi are in the hands of Iraqi judiciary, Maliki indicated."
We'll close with this from Helen Thomas' "Iraq War Ends, But Questions Remain" (Falls Church News-Press):
Obama, who followed Bush in the White House, had one chance to pull out of Iraq the day after he took over the presidency. At that time, he was very popular and he could have moved boldly to end the wars. Instead, he chose a losing policy.
The war toll for American servicemembers includes 4,700 dead and tens of thousands wounded. The American people have been passive to fact that thousands of men and women who have gone half way around the world to fight Iraqis - none of whom were involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Hussein was anathema to the United States and Israel, who targeted him as public enemy number one. Following Israel's footsteps, we have now turned our attention to Iran and its plans to become a nuclear power.
The financial cost of the war is estimated to be somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion.
We are leaving Iraq not with a bang but a whimper.
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