Former Iraqi vice-president blames PM Maliki for crisis

Iraq's former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi gestures during a different interview in Doha on 26 January Tariq al-Hashemi was convicted in absentia of murder last year

The former vice president of Iraq has blamed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the country's crisis.

Iraq has seen a wave of violence in Anbar province, where Sunni militants have fought security force in Falluja and Ramadi since late December.

In an interview with the BBC, Tariq al-Hashemi said Anbar's tribes could stop the militants, as they did in 2008.

He also claimed Sunni Arabs had resorted to violence because peaceful demonstrations had been ignored.

Since violence broke out in Anbar in December, the Iraqi military and tribesmen loyal to the government, have been retaking territory, as they did against al-Qaida in 2008.

"The main reason behind this uprising and the escalation and the violence is directly related to the injustice that's been addressing the Arab Sunni community by the Prime Minister Mr al-Maliki," Mr Hashemi said.

He accused the government of "arresting the youngsters, targeting leaders, confiscating mosques and changing even the history and identity" of Iraq's Sunni Muslims, describing this as an "unfair and discriminatory policy".

People in Ramadi were "forced to raise their hands and their guns for self-defence, which is quite legitimate," he said.

Claims that the rebellion in Anbar is being led by the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) were, Mr Hashemi said, a ruse by the prime minister to divert attention from his own responsibility and an attempt to "buy the international community's loyalty".

Iraqi troops should be withdrawn immediately, he said.

Mr Hashemi is currently living as a fugitive in Turkey, after an Iraqi court last year sentenced him to death in absentia for running death squads - charges he denies.

On Saturday, in what's thought to have been his first visit to Anbar province since the rebellion began, Mr Maliki promised training for loyalist tribal militia, and over $83m (£50m) in construction funds.

It is seen as a bid to placate the restive region and Iraq's broader Sunni Arab minority, which complains of marginalisation by the government.

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Prime Minister's media office shows Nouri al-Maliki greetings soldiers as he arrives in the capital of Anbar province, Ramadi Mr Maliki greets the troops Mr Hashemi says should be withdrawn, as he arrives in Ramadi
Iraqi armoured vehicles and tanks in Ramadi (12 February 2014) Troops, backed by pro-government tribesmen, have made progress against militants in Ramadi

The UN says up to 300,000 people have now been displaced by the fighting in Anbar province.

While security forces backed by pro-government tribesmen have made steady progress in retaking Ramadi, they have not launched an offensive to recapture Falluja, fearing a repeat of the two bloody urban battles US troops fought in the city in 2004.

Over the weekend, Anbar Governor Ahmed al-Dulaimi gave the militants a week to surrender, but said officials would not negotiate with Isis.

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