Middle East

Baghdad blasts: Hashemi blames Iraq PM Nouri Maliki

Iraq's Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has said Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is to blame for a sudden surge of violence in the country.

Dozens of people were killed in a string of blasts across the capital, Baghdad, on Thursday.

Mr Hashemi, who is subject to an arrest warrant on terror charges, said that Mr Maliki should be focusing on security, not "chasing patriotic politicians".

The crisis has sparked fears of renewed sectarian conflict in Iraq.

Mr Maliki is from the majority Shia Arab group, while Mr Hashemi is one of the country's most prominent Sunni politicians.

Mr Hashemi has been accused of orchestrating terror attacks on officials and security forces, a charge he denies. In response, the main Sunni political bloc, al-Iraqiyya, is blockading parliament and the cabinet, putting the future of the fragile year-old unity government in doubt.

"We should blame Mr Maliki, he started a national crisis and it's not easy to control," Mr Hashemi told BBC Arabic.

"The Iraqis have a right to be worried."

He said the attacks happened because the government was too busy chasing "patriotic politicians" instead of terrorists.

"The security services are pointed in the wrong direction," he said.

Mr Hashemi has previously compared the prime minister's behaviour and style of government to that of deposed former leader Saddam Hussein, telling US Foreign Policy magazine Mr Maliki was "very much adamant about running this country in a very bad and tough way".

Thursday's attacks were the worst to hit Iraq in months, and came just after the US withdrew its troops, ending nearly nine years of military engagement.

At least 68 people were killed and nearly 200 injured as car and roadside bombs went off in 16 separate locations, mostly Shia areas of the city.

The first 13 bombs hit as people were going to work in the morning - they were followed by other blasts throughout the day.

Officials said schools and kindergartens had been among the targets.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, but analysts say the level of co-ordination suggests a planning capability only available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is a mainly Sunni insurgent group.

Mr Maliki said the attackers should "confirm once again to any doubters the political nature of the goals that those criminals want to achieve", but that the attackers should not be allowed to influence the political process.

In an interview with the BBC's Persian Television network, Mr Hashemi said the high level of co-ordination suggested "this kind of terrorist attack is beyond even al-Qaeda".

"I am sure somebody inside the government manipulated all these explosives and their damages, nobody else could be qualified," he added, saying he was convinced it had been carried out by elements of the government's own security.

Boycott

But the BBC's Jim Muir in the region says most Shias will conclude that Iraq's disaffected Sunni leadership was behind the latest violence.

There is a strong possibility, he says, that insurgents on the Sunni side were just waiting for the most tense moment to unleash attacks they had been planning.

The attacks have only increased the crisis at the heart of Iraq's fragile power-sharing government.

Al-Iraqiyya was already boycotting parliament in protest at what it said was Mr Maliki's authoritarian approach.

It said the arrest warrant against Mr Hashemi was politically motivated, and in response said its ministers would no longer participate in cabinet.

Mr Hashemi said that he was sure he would be only the first among many to be targeted by Mr Maliki.

"After [the] Americans decided to pull out, [the] time comes for him, he felt himself free to try to get rid of his political rivals and opponents and critics - this is why he started with me, in due course he will continue with others," he said.

Mr Hashemi is currently in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, under the protection of the regional government, but Mr Maliki has demanded his return.

The US has urged Iraq's leaders to work together to safeguard their country's future and prevent the much-feared scenario of a return to the sectarian clashes of 2007 and 2007 which left thousands of people dead.