Leading Iraqi figures on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of trying to assemble a new dictatorship that risked plunging the country into civil war now that US troops have withdrawn.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Iyad Allawi, Osama al-Nujaifi and Rafa al-Essawi, leaders of the Iraqiya bloc, accused Maliki, a religious Shiite, of using security forces and the judiciary to hound his mainly Sunni opponents.
"The prize, for which so many American soldiers believed they were fighting, was a functioning democratic and nonsectarian state," they wrote.
"But Iraq is now moving in the opposite direction -- toward a sectarian autocracy that carries with it the threat of devastating civil war."
Iraq has been locked in a political crisis since the last US troops withdrew this month, with the government ordering the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who has fled to the country's autonomous Kurdish region.
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The Iraqiya leaders said Maliki had "laid siege" to their party, "with the blessing of a politicized judiciary and law enforcement system that have become virtual extensions of his personal office."
They went on to accuse Maliki of violating a power-sharing agreement reached a year ago that allowed for the formation of a national unity government.
The support of Iraqiya -- which narrowly won the March 7, 2010 poll and garnered most of its seats in Sunni areas, is seen as vital to preventing a resurgence of violence. The Sunni Arab minority dominated Saddam Hussein's regime and was the bedrock of the anti-US insurgency after the 2003 invasion.
The Iraqiya leaders called on the United States to condition its support for Maliki on his fulfillment of the power-sharing agreement and his "dissolving the unconstitutional entities through which he now rules."
"We are glad that your brave soldiers have made it home for the holidays and we wish them peace and happiness," they wrote.
"But as Iraq once again teeters on the brink, we respectfully ask America’s leaders to understand that unconditional support for Mr. Maliki is pushing Iraq down the path to civil war.
"Unless America acts rapidly to help create a successful unity government, Iraq is doomed."