(MENAFN - Arab News) Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the leader of the Kurdish region traded barbs yesterday, each blaming the other for an ongoing political crisis amid weeks of anti-government protests.
The two issued rival statements in the latest in a series of disputes that
have hardened opposition against Maliki and pitted him against several of his erstwhile government partners, including Iraq's main Kurdish political faction, who accuse him of authoritarianism and sectarianism.
"The federal government... has increased the crisis through neglect and threats that have led to dangerous consequences," Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani said in a statement issued late on Saturday.
"Iraq has, for a long time, been going through a major crisis because of the neglect of services for citizens, and not implementing the constitution and agreements."
Barzani also backed "the legitimate demands" of demonstrators who have for weeks railed against the authorities for allegedly holding members of their community without charge and misusing anti-terror laws to target them.
Maliki, meanwhile, issued his own statement yesterday in which he expressed surprise at Barzani's statement, which he said "reveals a desire to hinder dialogue among the Iraqi people and components, and revive ugly sectarian strife."
"It seems that these factions do not like to see agreement between Iraqis," he said, in the statement issued by his office.
An Iraqi protester set himself ablaze yesterday in a dramatic turn in more than three weeks of rallies by Muslims challenging Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's government.
Thousands of demonstrators have rallied since late December against government they believe has marginalized their minority sect, raising fears the OPEC country may slide again into widespread sectarian confrontation.
During protests of around 2,000 demonstrators in the northern city of Mosul, one man set himself ablaze before others quickly stamped out the flames with their jackets, police said. He was sent to hospital with burns to his face and hands.
"We don't want people to hang themselves or burn themselves, this would be against Islam," said Ghanim Al-Abid, protest organizer in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad. "But he reached such a state of despair he set himself on fire."
Self-immolations have had resonance in the Arab world since a Tunisian vegetable seller set himself on fire two years ago. His death in Jan. 2011 triggered the wave of uprisings that toppled leaders across North Africa and the Middle East.
Yesterday's incident in Iraq shows the frustration among a section of the people that has not ebbed despite concessions from Maliki.
Many Iraqis feel they have been unfairly targeted by security forces and sidelined from power since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Protests have centered Anbar province, a vast desert area that makes up a third of Iraq's territory along the Euphrates.