Iraq minister resigns over 'political interference'

Iraqi national unity government is sworn in (21 December 2010) Mr Allawi is thought to be the first member of the unity government to resign since it was formed

Iraq's communications minister has resigned, accusing Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of refusing to stop "political interference" in his ministry.

Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiyya bloc, said he had submitted his resignation a month ago, but that it had only now been accepted.

There has been no word yet from the prime minister on the allegations.

Mr Allawi is thought to be the first member of the national unity government to resign since it was formed in 2010.

Last year, Electricity Minister Raad Shallal al-Ani, an independent who was nominated by Iraqiyya, was sacked after allegedly authorising £1.1bn ($1.7bn) of improper contracts for power stations with foreign companies.

Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician and a leading member of Iraqiyya, is meanwhile on trial in absentia, accused of financing a sectarian death squad targeting Shia officials.

'Conditions'

Mr Maliki's support of the prosecution led Iraqiyya to boycott cabinet meetings for more than a month, bringing the government to a standstill.

They accused the prime minister, who is a Shia, of trying to marginalise the country's minority Sunni community and cement his grip on power.

On Monday, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi told the AFP news agency: "I required certain conditions from the prime minister, to stop the political interference in my ministry."

"Otherwise, I told him: 'I am not ready to work at the ministry with this big interference.'"

"I told him: 'Either you fulfil those conditions or accept my resignation.' He decided after one month to accept my resignation."

In separate development on Monday, security officials said gunmen had shot dead a senior army officer outside the capital, Baghdad.

Brig-Gen Abdul Muhsin Khazal was killed in the town of Taji. One report said the assailants used weapons with silencers.

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