Iraqi Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi demanded that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki resign after a “militia force” allegedly raided the ministry and detained its guards on Thursday.
Essawi’s remarks may reignite a long-running feud between the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, of which he is a member, and the Shiite premier.
“I call on the prime minister to resign, because he did not behave like a man of state,” Essawi told a news conference attended by parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, both of whom are also Iraqiya members.
Essawi said a “militia force” -- an apparent reference to a security forces unit -- raided the finance ministry and his home “in an illegal act, without a judicial order,” detaining all of the ministry’s 150 guards.
Essawi blasted al-Maliki’s government as one “that does not respect its institutions and sovereignty and that cannot live without crisis.”
While he emphasized that he believes the detentions were carried out by militia members rather than state security forces, he suggested that the prime minister had knowledge of the move against his staff.
“Does al-Maliki want me to believe he had no idea about this? This was a deliberate and pre-mediated act,” he charged.
A senior government security official said interior ministry forces carried out arrests of Essawi’s bodyguards on Thursday as part of a counterterrorism investigation, and that some of them have already been released. The official agreed to speak to the Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details of the operation to reporters.
Iraqiya and other members of Maliki’s less-than-unified national unity government have accused him in the past year of concentrating power in his hands and moving towards dictatorship.
Opposition to Maliki escalated into calls for him to be removed from power, but his opponents lacked the parliamentary votes to do so.