Iraqi premier threatens snap elections

Posted: June 28, 2012

BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister threatened Wednesday to call early elections that could tighten his grip on power if the nation's political factions fail to break an impasse that has all but paralyzed the government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's gambit is the latest in a months-long political crisis in Iraq that has Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds alike calling for his resignation. The impasse also has fueled fears of a possible flare-up in violence by insurgents seeking to take advantage of the chaos. Bombings targeting a Shiite cleric and an anti-al-Qaeda militia fighter killed at least 11 people Wednesday in Baghdad.

Maliki, a Shiite, said that continued refusals by his political opponents to negotiate a resolution to the crisis would leave him little choice but to call for a new vote.

"When the other party is refusing to sit down at the negotiating table and insists on the policy of creating continued crises . . . then the prime minister finds himself obliged to call for early elections in which the Iraqi people will have the final say," Maliki said in a statement posted on his official website. He did not mention a date for the vote.

Maliki's threat to hold snap elections comes in response to months of demands for his resignation by Sunni, Kurdish and some Shiite leaders who say he has sidelined them from power. It's unclear whether they have the political will or enough support in parliament to oust Maliki in a no-confidence vote.

The influential anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr this week joined Maliki's opponents in calling for his resignation, raising the stakes against the prime minister.

By countering with a threat to call for early elections, Maliki is betting that his popular support nationwide would hand him a clear-cut victory and assure him undisputed executive authority.

The current crisis began in December when the government issued terrorism charges against the nation's highest-ranking Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, as the last U.S. troops were withdrawing. That prompted Sunni politicians to briefly boycott the cabinet, and government work ground to a halt.

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