by Mohamad Ali Harissi
Published — Saturday 22 December 2012
Last update 21 December 2012 9:48 pm
BAGHDAD: Nine of the Iraqi finance minister’s guards are being held on terrorism charges, a judicial spokesman said yesterday, after the minister demanded the premier’s resignation following their arrest.
The arrests and Finance Minister Rafa Al-Essawi’s response threaten to reignite a long-running feud between the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, of which he is a member, and Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.
Higher Judicial Council spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar told AFP that nine of Essawi’s guards were detained under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, and that all necessary arrest warrants had been obtained. And he told Iraqiya state television that the commander of the guards had confessed to carrying out “terrorist acts,” which he said meant “bombings and assassinations.”
The Interior Ministry said on its website that its forces carried out the arrests around Essawi’s house, put the number of detained guards at 10, and published what it said were copies of the arrest warrants.
Essawi meanwhile said on Thursday that a “militia force” — an apparent reference to a security forces unit — raided the ministry and his home “in an illegal act, without a judicial order,” detaining 150 guards. “I call on the prime minister to resign, because he did not behave like a man of state,” Essawi told a news conference alongside Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlak, also Iraqiya members.
Iraqiya and other members of Maliki’s unstable national unity government have accused him in the past year of concentrating power in his hands and moving toward dictatorship.
Opposition to Maliki escalated into calls for him to be removed, but his opponents lacked the parliamentary votes to do so. Essawi also called on Thursday for the no-confidence proceedings to be reopened.
The arrest of Essawi’s guards come almost exactly a year after Sunni Vice President Tareq Al-Hashemi’s guards were arrested and accused of terrorism.