Sunni-backed secular Shiite leader Ayad Allawi says Iraq’s Shiite prime minister must change course or be removed. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pushing to form a Shiite-controlled government that risks tearing the country apart unless he changes course or is removed from office, a Sunni-backed politician said at a news conference Wednesday.

Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister of Iraq, also asserted that security forces under Maliki’s control are “arresting, torturing and terrifying” political opponents and innocent citizens. Allawi said the country deserved better after three decades of dictatorship and wars.

“This is not the state that we fought for,” he said.

A spokesman for Maliki declined to comment but has said in the past that other politicians, not Maliki, are stoking sectarian tensions. Ali Hadi al-Moussawi added that political colleagues of Allawi who are boycotting their government positions are disrupting needed services. For that reason, he said, the ministers of agencies participating in the boycott have been suspended.

“We appointed acting ministers and gave the boycotting ministers a vacation,” Moussawi said.

Allawi’s statement Wednesday is the latest sign that a political crisis gripping Iraq just weeks after the departure of U.S. troops is far from resolved. Analysts said that the prime minister has pushed his political rivals so hard in recent weeks that there may be no going back for him.

“It’s about assuring long-term dominance,” said Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “It’s almost like Maliki is playing a game of chicken, except this time he’s pushed all the way down on the accelerator and thrown out the steering wheel.”

Kenneth Pollack, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said, “It is going to be very hard to get this toothpaste back in the tube.”

Pollack and others worry that the sectarian tensions among the country’s lawmakers are creating a dangerous environment. Insurgents have staged a rash of deadly bombings recently in what observers say is probably a campaign to draw Shiite and Sunni militias into the fray.

An aide to Maliki, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly, said that Allawi was simply repeating criticisms he has made before. Maliki has said in speeches lately that he is committed to working with all parties.

At the news conference, Allawi, flanked by Sunni leaders, said Maliki is provoking individual provinces to seek more autonomy. He said he fears that the country will break apart and is not optimistic that the differences between his coalition and Maliki can be mended through negotiations.

One of three things needs to happen, he added: Maliki should reverse course and agree to run the government under a power-sharing arrangement that divides key positions among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds; the country should hold new elections, which could produce a new prime minister; or Maliki should be replaced.

“Iraq is standing today at a crossroads,” he said. “We need a tolerant statesman who can go beyond personal grudges, like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.”

Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.