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Iraq VP barred from overseas travel

2011-12-19 20:37

Baghdad - Iraq's Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has been barred from travelling overseas, officials said on Monday, the latest development in a political crisis shortly after US troops completed a pullout.

Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, both Sunnis and members of the secular Iraqiya bloc, have come under increasing pressure, with three of the vice president's bodyguards arrested in connection with "terrorist activity" and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki calling for Mutlak to be sacked.

"A five-member judicial committee has decided to prevent Tareq al-Hashemi and a number of his guards from travelling overseas due to issues related to terrorism," said a senior security official. State broadcaster Al-Iraqiya TV also reported the travel ban.

Baghdad security spokesperson Major General Qassim Atta said three of Hashemi's bodyguards were arrested for "suspected terrorist activity" on Saturday evening, when the vice president was briefly escorted off a domestic flight from Baghdad to the autonomous Kurdish region's capital Arbil.

Hashemi's office on Monday lamented "intentional harassment" in the form of a security force blockading his home for several weeks, as well as other incidents.

Outlawed party

The latest events come after the Iraqiya bloc of Hashemi and Mutlak said on Saturday it was boycotting parliament in protest over the prime minister's alleged monopolising of power. The following day, Maliki called for Mutlak to be ousted.

Lawmakers are due to consider the request on January 3, a parliament official said.

Mutlak, who had been accused of being a supporter of Saddam's outlawed Baath party in the run-up to March 2010 elections that he was barred from standing in, told his own Babiliyah television channel that Maliki was "worse than Saddam Hussein".

Iraqiya, which holds 82 seats in the 325-member parliament and controls nine ministerial posts, has not pulled out of Iraq's national unity government.

The bloc, which garnered most of its support from the Sunni Arab minority and emerged with the most seats in March 2010 elections, was out-manoeuvred for the premiership by Maliki, who, after finishing second in the polls, struck a deal with another group to broaden his power base and lead the government.