BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Kurds on Thursday said their politicians will stay away from Cabinet meetings and called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down, blaming him for failing to stop the Sunni militant offensive that has swept across much of the country.
The announced boycott of Cabinet sessions is the latest sign of the deteriorating relationship between the Shiite leader and the Kurds. The move was in protest against al-Maliki's accusations a day earlier that the largely autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq is harboring the Sunni insurgents. The prime minister provided no evidence to support his claims, and the Kurds denied the allegations.
Deputy Prime Minister Roz Nouri Shawez, the highest level Kurdish official in the government, told reporters Thursday that "such statements are meant to hide the big security fiasco by blaming others, and we announce our boycott of Cabinet meetings."
Kurds also hold the Cabinet posts for foreign affairs, trade, health and immigration and displacement.
The move is largely symbolic, since the government has continued operating in the past when the Sunni bloc fully withdrew its ministers from the Cabinet. But it underlines the deepening split between al-Maliki and the Kurds.
The presidency of the Kurdish self-rule region said al-Maliki "has become hysterical and has lost his balance."
"He is doing everything he can to justify his failures and put the blame on others for these failures," the Kurdish region's presidency said in a statement posted on its website late Wednesday. It accused al-Maliki of destroying the country, and demanded that the step down.
Al-Maliki's rivals and even some former allies accuse the prime minister of helping fuel the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the country's minority Sunnis, who complains of being treated as second-class citizens.
Al-Maliki, whose State of Law bloc won the most seats in April elections, has refused to heed calls to step aside, and instead has vowed to pursue a third consecutive term.
That has led to political deadlock as lawmakers attempt to form a new government that can hold the country together as it confronts the Sunni militants who have seized control of much of northern and western Iraq.