x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iraqi Sunni politician arrested as row over death squads festers

Riyadh Al Adhadh, the deputy chief of Baghdad provincial council, was arrested while on his way to work yesterday in connection with funding insurgent groups, officials say.

BAGHDAD // Iraqi authorities arrested a politician belonging to the party of the vice president, Tareq Al Hashemi, who is at the centre of a row after he was charged with running death squads.

The warrant against Mr Al Hashemi, who denies the accusations, came shortly after US forces completed their withdrawal from Iraq and has pitted the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed bloc, stoking sectarian tensions.

Riyadh Al Adhadh, the deputy chief of Baghdad provincial council, was arrested while on his way to work yesterday in connection with funding insurgent groups, officials said.

"An insurgent group confessed that he is funding them and giving them orders," a Baghdad security official said.

Mr Al Adhadh is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni grouping that belongs to the broader Iraqiyya coalition to which Mr Al Hashemi belongs. Mr Al Hashemi is a former leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party but has since split from the party.

The Iraqi Islamic Party confirmed the arrest, but condemned it as "an unprecedented escalation" and called for Mr Al Adhadh to be freed.

Iraqiyya has largely boycotted parliament and cabinet in response to what it claims are prime minister Nouri Al Maliki's centralisation of power, and has called on the premier to respect a year-old power-sharing deal or quit.

The bloc won the most seats in March 2010 elections, but was outmanoeuvred by Mr Al Maliki's alliance, which eventually formed the government after a prolonged impasse was finally broken in November 2010.

On Wednesday, Ayad Allawi, Iraqiyya's leader and a former prime minister, said new leaders were needed to prevent the country from disintegrating in chaos.

"Iraq is at a crossroads and I say that Iraq needs forgiving leaders, who will raise above their personal hatred," Mr Allawi said, accusing the government of stoking sectarian tensions to divert attention from its failures.

"This is not the country that we fought the dictatorship for ... not the democracy and freedom that we made sacrifices for."

The row with Mr Al Maliki erupted last month when authorities charged Mr Al Hashemi and Mr Al Maliki, a Shiite, said his Sunni deputy Saleh Al Mutlak should be fired after the latter said the premier was "worse than Saddam Hussein".

Mr Al Hashemi has been holed up in the autonomous Kurdish region for the duration of the crisis, and Kurdish officials have so far declined to hand him over to Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Iraq's cabinet clamped down on Iraqiyya's boycotting ministers by decreeing they could not run their ministries while staying away from its meetings.