New arrests of Sunni leaders in Iraq political row

AFP , Friday 20 Jan 2012

Iraqi security forces arrest the deputy governor in charge of investment, Ghadban Al-Khazraji, on terrorism charges

Security forces detained a Sunni Arab politician in central Iraq on Friday while a second escaped in the latest round of detentions to hit the minority group amid a political row.

The arrest took place in the central province of Diyala, north of Baghdad, after a majority of its provincial council members signed a document last month calling for greater autonomy from the central government.

Friday's arrest in Diyala, which is mostly Sunni Arab and Kurdish, took place amid a political row that has pitted the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, stoking sectarian tensions.

"Early this morning, a unit controlled by the office of the prime minister arrested at his home in [Diyala provincial capital] Baquba, the deputy governor in charge of investment Ghadban Al-Khazraji," said Bassim al-Samarraie, another deputy governor.

Samarraie said the forces also looked to detain Talal Al-Juburi, deputy governor for administrative affairs, but he fled to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

Khazraji, Juburi and Samarraie are all Iraqiya members.

According to Diyala officials, arrest warrants have also been issued against two Iraqiya provincial councillors, one a Sunni Arab and the other a Kurd. The documents have charged them with "terrorist activities," the officials said.

Several provincial councillors have fled to the majority-Kurdish town of Khanaqin, in northeastern Diyala, to seek refuge from the warrants.

The province is one of several Sunni-majority provinces in Iraq that have pushed for greater autonomy from Baghdad, after feeling aggrieved by the Shiite-led government.

The moves have been rebuffed by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and other Shiite leaders.

Friday's arrest came a day after Iraqi authorities announced the detention of another Iraqiya politician, this time from Baghdad provincial council, on terror charges.

The arrests come amid a political row that erupted last month as US troops were withdrawing from Iraq, when authorities charged Sunni Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi with running a death squad.

Maliki has also called for his Sunni deputy Saleh Al-Mutlak to be fired after the latter described the premier as "worse than Saddam Hussein."

Iraqiya has mostly boycotted parliament and the cabinet, and has called for Maliki to respect a year-old power-sharing deal or quit.

And Hashemi, who denies the charges, is holed up in the autonomous Kurdish region, which has so far declined to hand him over.

Iraqiya won the most seats in March 2010 parliamentary elections but was outmanouevred by Maliki in forming a government.

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