Iraqi sectarian divisions reaching impasse

At left, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and at right, Iraqi vice president Tariq Al-Hashemi. CBS/Getty Images

(AP) BAGHDAD - A long-awaited Iraqi reconciliation conference has been postponed indefinitely because of deepening sectarian tensions between rival political groups, the parliament speaker said Wednesday.

Osama al-Nujaifi told a news conference that holding it under current circumstances would only complicate matters. The meeting was to formally open on Thursday.

"Due to mounting differences, it is better to postpone the conference until we reach a way out of the standoff," al-Nujaifi said.

Iraq's Sunnis accuse the Shiite-dominated government of seeking to marginalize them and of targeting senior Sunni politicians.

In December, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in the government, for allegedly running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces. Al-Hashemi has denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

Al-Hashemi had taken refuge in the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq beyond the reach of Iraqi law enforcement. Earlier this week, he left Iraq for the first time since the allegations against him surfaced. He flew to Qatar and stayed for four days. Al-Hashemi then flew to Saudi Arabia, the official Saudi news agency reported. He was greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, according to a Saudi Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. He had no further details on the visit.

Also, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni, has been banned from attending Cabinet meetings after he called Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a "dictator who is worse than Saddam."

The country's Kurds are also at odds with the central government on issues ranging from the development of oil resources in the northern Kurdish region to the problem of disputed territory.

The comments by Al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, came hours after a car bomb attack killed five people and wounded 15 in the Sunni town of Duluiyah north of Baghdad, according to police. A police official said the blast missed the convoy of Col. Qandil Khalil, the head of Duluiyah police, as it was driving near a local market.

Duluiyah, a former al Qaeda stronghold, is 45 miles north of Baghdad.

A hospital official confirmed the death toll, adding that all casualties were civilians. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

In other developments, the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders demanded Iraq government to start an investigation into the killing of Kamiran Salaheddin, a local TV presenter who was killed by a sticky bomb attached to his car on Tuesday in Tikrit.

"The Iraqi authorities must do everything possible to ensure that those responsible for his death are brought to justice. His murder must not go unpunished," said the RSF.

Iraq ranked 152nd out of 179 countries in RSF's 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before.

Although violence has dropped significantly in Iraq, insurgents attacks are still frequent.

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