Sabah Arar / AFP - Getty Images
Iraq's former premier Iyad Allawi during a press conference in Baghdad in October, 2009.
A leading Iraqi politician has accused the country's prime minister of acting like Saddam Hussein in trying to silence opposition, saying he risks provoking a new fightback against dictatorship.
Iyad Allawi -- a former prime minister who leads the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc -- also claimed the United States had pulled out its troops "without completing the job they should have finished."
Allawi said that the current premier, Nuri al-Maliki, had used fabricated confessions to demand the arrest of the country's Sunni Muslim vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi.
Al-Hashemi, who has taken refuge in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, denies allegations he ordered bombings and shootings against his opponents. The move against him, on the very day U.S. troops left the country, threatens to upset a balance among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.
As troops leave Iraq, they cross the border into Kuwait for the final steps toward departure. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Speaking to Reuters two days after the final departure of the U.S. forces that ended Saddam's Sunni-dominated rule, Allawi called for international efforts to prevent al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, from provoking renewed sectarian warfare of the kind that killed tens of thousands in the years after Saddam fell in 2003.
"This is terrifying, to bring fabricated confessions," Allawi said shortly before leaving the Jordanian capital Amman to return to Iraq. "It reminds me personally of what Saddam Hussein used to do where he would accuse his political opponents of being terrorists and conspirators."
"We fear the return of dictatorship by this authoritarian way of governing. It's the latest in a build-up of atrocities, arrests and intimidation that has been going on a wide scale," said Allawi, who comes from the Shiite Muslim majority but who has drawn support heavily from disaffected Sunnis.
As prime minister for 10 months under U.S. occupation in 2004 and 2005, Allawi was accused of revealing an authoritarian streak himself. He later led the Iraqiya bloc to first place in last year's parliamentary election but ended up joining a coalition headed by al-Maliki, who retained the premiership.
He said he would now try to unseat the prime minister in the legislature: "We have to make a move to bring about stability to the country by trying to find a substitute to Maliki through parliament," said Allawi, who repeated allegations that Shiite Iran is seeking control in Iraq now that U.S. forces have left.
"Maliki has crossed all red lines and Iraq is now facing a very, very serious and very difficult situation," he said.
'Very heart of democracy'
"We are watching events unfolding which are aimed at the very heart of democracy and stability," he added. "The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don't have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis and we don't have a full-blown state in Iraq."
"We want to resolve issues between Iraqis in a peaceful way and we want to bring stability. Iraqis should fill the vacuum, rather than anybody else," Allawi said, in a reference to his view Iran is intent on filling a vacuum left by U.S. troops.
Iraq sits on a sectarian, Sunni-Shiite faultline that is generating conflict throughout the region, notably between Iran and Sunni-ruled Arab states like Saudi Arabia. While the overthrow of Saddam in Iraq bolstered Shiites, the uprising against Iran's Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad could lead to power in Damascus shifting toward Syria's Sunni majority.
"The rise of sectarianism is already there," Allawi said. "We are witnessing the beginning of it and the influences of what is happening in the region is only adding fuel to the fire. My fear is that the Iraqi people will lose faith in the political process and sectarianism will prevail.
"Unless the international community and the region get involved and unless sense prevails, Iraq is heading towards a very big conflict."
Also Tuesday, al-Hashemi told a televised news conference that he has not committed any "sin" against Iraq and also described the charges as "fabricated." He accused al-Maliki of being behind a plot to smear him and declared that efforts at national reconciliation had been blown apart.
"I'm shocked by all these things," al-Hashemi told reporters in the northern city of Irbil. "I swear to God that al-Hashemi didn't commit any sin or do anything wrong against any Iraqi either today or tomorrow and this is my pledge to God."
He said the arrest warrant was a campaign to "embarrass" him. He blamed al-Maliki, although he did not say specifically what he believed the Shiite premier had done.
"Al-Maliki is behind the whole issue. The country is in the hands of al-Maliki. All the efforts that have been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone. So yes, I blame al-Maliki," he said.
The Iraqi prime minister effectively runs the Interior Ministry, where the charges originated.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.