Iraqi political blocs have held talks with Iran over a standoff sparked by a warrant for the arrest of the country’s Sunni Arab vice president that has stoked sectarian tensions, officials said Tuesday.
Charges that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi ran a death squad have plunged Iraq into political crisis, and representatives of several parties have spoken to top officials in Tehran, according to senior political sources in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region, where Hashemi is holed up.
The United States, which completed a troop pullout a week ago, has long charged that Iran plays a nefarious role in Iraq by funding and supporting militias, and interfering in Iraqi politics, charges Tehran rejects.
“Iraqi parties are contacting Iran to mediate over the Hashemi issue,” an official close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, three political sources belonging to parties including the ruling Kurdistania alliance said a senior Iranian delegation met with Kurdish regional President Massud Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, in recent days to discuss the Hashemi arrest warrant.
The delegation, which includes officials from the Iranian intelligence service and army, was headed by Sardar Majidi, the deputy chief of the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, according to the sources, who did not want to be named.
They said the delegation pushed for a meeting of senior political leaders, but Maliki refused to attend any meeting held in Arbil, and Barzani declined to join talks in Baghdad.
Two independent Kurdish newspapers, Awene and Baas, have also reported that a top Iranian delegation visited Iraq and made the request.
The Iranian embassy in Baghdad did not respond to AFP attempts for comment.
The official close to Maliki confirmed the premier would not attend any political meeting outside of Baghdad, while Barzani’s spokesman Faisal al-Dabbagh said the regional president was “doing lots of work to solve the political crisis in Iraq, but he will not visit Baghdad.”
Talabani, meanwhile, met with parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a statement from his political party said. The pair called for a “public national conference” but did not resolve the issue of where it would be held, or when.
Crisis talks that were set to have been held in parliament on Friday were cancelled when several key blocs declined to attend.
Iraq’s political row, now in its second week, has seen authorities charge Hashemi with running a death squad and Maliki call for the sacking of his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak after he called the premier a dictator “worse than Saddam Hussein”.
The US has urged dialogue, but Hashemi and Mutlak’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has boycotted parliament and the cabinet, and the party loyal to anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr backs the dissolution of parliament and early elections.
Iraqiya and the Sadrists are both party to Maliki’s Shiite-led national unity government, with each controlling multiple ministerial posts.