Sectarian tensions erupt in Iraqi lawmaker row

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A Shi’ite lawmaker and the head of Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc shouted accusations at each other in parliament on Thursday, underscoring deep sectarian divisions just days after Sunnis ended a brief boycott of the legislature.

Lawmakers were visibly stunned at the accusations traded between Bahaa al-Araji from the movement loyal to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni Accordance Front.

The argument broke out when Araji held up several documents that he said were derogatory toward majority Shi’ites and which he claimed belonged to the Accordance Front.

Dulaimi then tried to deny links to the documents. An interruption by Araji prompted the Sunni lawmaker to point his finger furiously and shout “Shut up! … Liar!”

Such rows have become rare in parliament in recent months after top politicians urged lawmakers to refrain from stoking sectarian tensions in the fear it could encourage violence.

Dulaimi came under close scrutiny last week when Iraqi security forces detonated a car bomb found near his office.

His son and dozens of bodyguards were arrested, and the U.S. military said one of the guards had the keys to the bomb-rigged car. Dulaimi, who has denied any wrongdoing, was himself confined to his house for several days.

The Front, which said Dulaimi had been put under house arrest, boycotted parliament until he was allowed to leave his home earlier this week. The government had said he was told to stay home for his own safety.

Araji accused Dulaimi of having ties to the car bomb and said he should be arrested.

“If someone had forged money in his possession, even without his knowledge, he would be accountable. So what would be said of someone who had rigged car (bombs) in his possession?” Araji said.

Dulaimi later denied any involvement with the car bomb and suggested it may have been parked there to target him.

“Any damage to my reputation or myself will not be in the interest of national reconciliation, because I have a very large following in the Sunni community,” he told a news conference.

In parliament, speaker Mahmoud al-Mashadani, a member of the Front, urged both politicians to end their argument and focus on discussions about next year’s budget.

“We’ve come a long way in the direction of imposing order and an institutionalized state free from sectarianism, so please stop,” Mashadani told the session.

The Front has been a heavy critic of the Shi’ite-led government and pulled its members from a national unity cabinet in August, saying Sunni Arabs were being marginalized.

Sadr’s faction has also been at odds with the government, quitting the cabinet earlier this year after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

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