Speaking at a news conference broadcast on national television, Maliki said that if leaders in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region do not hand over Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi — who is accused of enlisting personal bodyguards to run a hit squad — “it will stir up problems.”
In a sign of hardening differences, Maliki struck a defiant tone against political opponents who have boycotted parliament and are accusing him of rushing to consolidate power in the wake of the U.S. troop departure last weekend.
Maliki said he does not want to be weighed down by the opinions of various political factions and insisted that the government has the right to replace ministers who boycott their jobs because of differences with him.
At the same time, Maliki said he would like to make power-sharing work and would seek replacement appointees from rival parties, so long as they share his commitment to rebuild the country.
It is not suitable, Maliki said, to keep talking about “your share and my share” and “my harmonization here and your harmonization there.”
The Obama administration, though concerned about the turn of events in Baghdad just days after the U.S. withdrawal, focused Wednesday on what it saw as the positive elements of Maliki’s statements, describing the upheaval as part of the usual rough and tumble of Iraqi politics.
“This kind of political turmoil has been occurring in Iraq periodically, as they have taken steps forward and, occasionally, steps backwards,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Maliki “actually said many of the right things in terms of respect for the constitution, a desire for an inclusive political process, a desire to move past sectarian and ethnic issues,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the fluid situation candidly.
But the official acknowledged that “anytime you have something that spirals up politically, there is always a danger that it spirals beyond the control of the political actors, and people throw up their hands and walk away.”
In calls Tuesday evening to Maliki and Osama al-Nujaifi, the parliament speaker from the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc, Vice President Biden told them that “whatever the facts actually were, the Iraqis were creating a perception problem that would not advance their interests,” said Antony J. Blinken, Biden’s chief foreign policy adviser. Biden, Blinken said, warned that it was important to show “that they were working through their differences in the political process together, not just throwing accusations at each other.”