BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his security officials are to blame for the rise of Sunni Muslim insurgents who have seized parts of Iraq, the country’s foreign minister said.
The comments by Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, are likely to worsen relations between Maliki’s Shia-led government and the Kurds, complicating efforts to form a power-sharing government capable of countering Islamic State militants.
At the stake is the survival of Iraq as a unified country. Islamic State have declared a medieval-style caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria they control, alarming other Arab states who fear their campaign will embolden militants on their patch.
“Surely the man who is responsible for the general policies bears the responsibility and the general commander of the armed force, the ministers of defence and interior also bear these responsibilities,” Zebari told Al Arabiya television.
“There are other sides who bear responsibility, maybe political partners, but the biggest and greatest responsibility is on the person in charge of public policies.” In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended all participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Maliki’s accusation that Kurds were allowing terrorists to stay in Arbil, the capital of their semi-autonomous region known as Kurdistan.
Maliki is currently ruling in a caretaker capacity, having won a parliamentary election in April but failing to win enough support from the Kurdish and Arab Sunni minorities as well as fellow Shias to form a new government.
The United States, the United Nations and Iraq’s own Shia clerics have urged lawmakers to form a new government swiftly to deal with the Sunni insurgency.
Islamic State’s offensive has whipped up sectarian tensions and threatened to dismember Iraq. The sectarian conflict poses the biggest danger to the OPEC member’s stability since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein after a US-led invasion.
Maliki has appointed Hussain Al Shahristani, the Shia deputy prime minister, as acting foreign minister.
The Kurds have long dreamed of their own independent state, an aspiration that angers Maliki, who has frequently clashed with the non-Arabs over budgets, land and oil.
After the Sunni militants arrived almost unopposed by the army, Kurdish forces seized two oilfields in northern Iraq and took over operations from a state-run oil company.
In another move certain to infuriate the government, the Kurdish region is pressing Washington for sophisticated weapons it says Kurdish fighters need to push back Islamist militants, Kurdish and US officials said.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shia militias now rival the Iraqi army in its ability to confront the Islamic State, whose fighters had taken control of parts of western Iraq before their advance through the north.
The Sunni insurgents have paused their campaign in towns just north of Baghdad, which could partly explain why UN figures show the number of Iraqi deaths dropped to 1,737 people, mostly civilians, in July compared to 2,400 in June.