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Iraqi Prime Minister Urges Kurds To Turn Over Vice President

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Kurdish athorities to turn over Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who sought refuge in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

As we reported, al-Hashemi denies the charges that he ordered death squads to assassinate government officials. But his arrest warrant has revived sectarian tensions in Iraq and threatens to tear apart its coalition government. Al-Hashemi is the top Sunni politician in Iraq and Maliki is Shiite.

The Telegraph reports that in a press conference, Maliki also threatened "to dismiss the nine ministers of [the Sunni-backed] Iraqiya [political bloc]," which had suspended its participation in the legislature in protest of what they said was Maliki's concentration of power.

The Telegraph adds:

"Mr Maliki has also asked that parliament fire another rival, his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq, after he compared Mr Maliki to Saddam Hussein.

"There was some sign of an ameliorating effect on Mr Maliki, who invited the Sunni and Kurdish parties for talks, but he was promptly rebuffed by the Sunni party, Iraqiya.

"It said that Mr Maliki represented 'the main reason for the crisis and the problem, not a positive element for a solution'."

It's important to remember that all of this comes just days after the U.S withdrew its last troops from the country. The Hillreports that yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Maliki in an effort to diffuse the situation.

"The vice president emphasized the need for an 'inclusive partnership government' and the importance of acting within the Iraqi constitution," The Hill reports. "He stressed the need for the prime minister and leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work out their differences."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.