AMMAN Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki is acting like Saddam Hussein in trying to silence opposition and he risks provoking a new fightback against dictatorship, one of Maliki's predecessors as prime minister said on Tuesday.
Iyad Allawi, who leads the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, said the televised confessions Maliki has used to demand the arrest of the country's Sunni Muslim vice president were fabrications.
Speaking to Reuters two days after the final departure of the U.S. forces that ended Saddam's Sunni-dominated rule, Allawi called for international efforts to prevent the Shi'ite premier from provoking renewed sectarian warfare of the kind that killed tens of thousands in the years after Saddam fell in 2003.
"This is terrifying, to bring fabricated confessions," Allawi said shortly before leaving the Jordanian capital Amman to return to Iraq. "It reminds me personally of what Saddam Hussein used to do where he would accuse his political opponents of being terrorists and conspirators."
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who has taken refuge in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, denies allegations he ordered bombings and shootings against his opponents. The move against him, on the very day U.S. troops left the country, threatens to upset a balance among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
"We fear the return of dictatorship by this authoritarian way of governing. It's the latest in a build-up of atrocities, arrests and intimidation that has been going on a wide scale," said Allawi, who comes from the Shi'ite Muslim majority but who has drawn support heavily from disaffected Sunnis.
REGIONAL SECTARIAN CONFLICT
As prime minister for 10 months under U.S. occupation in 2004 and 2005, Allawi was accused of revealing an authoritarian streak himself. He later led the Iraqiya bloc to first place in last year's parliamentary election but ended up joining a coalition headed by Maliki, who retained the premiership.
He said he would now try to unseat the prime minister in the legislature: "We have to make a move to bring about stability to the country by trying to find a substitute to Maliki through parliament," said Allawi, who repeated allegations that Shi'ite Iran is seeking control in Iraq now that U.S. forces have left.
"Maliki has crossed all red lines and Iraq is now facing a very, very serious and very difficult situation," he said.
"We are watching events unfolding which are aimed at the very heart of democracy and stability.
"The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don't have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis and we don't have a full-blown state in Iraq," Allawi said.
"We want to resolve issues between Iraqis in a peaceful way and we want to bring stability. Iraqis should fill the vacuum, rather than anybody else," Allawi said, in a reference to his view Iran is intent on filling a vacuum left by U.S. troops.
Iraq sits on a sectarian, Sunni-Shi'ite faultline that is generating conflict throughout the region, notably between Iran and Sunni-ruled Arab states like Saudi Arabia. While the overthrow of Saddam in Iraq bolstered Shi'ites, the uprising against Iran's Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad could lead to power in Damascus shifting toward Syria's Sunni majority.
"The rise of sectarianism is already there," Allawi said.
"We are witnessing the beginning of it and the influences of what is happening in the region is only adding fuel to the fire. My fear is that the Iraqi people will lose faith in the political process and sectarianism will prevail.
"Unless the international community and the region get involved and unless sense prevails, Iraq is heading towards a very big conflict."
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)