BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab political bloc walked out of parliament on Saturday and its leader said he had been placed under house arrest after his son and dozens of members of his entourage were detained.
Saleem al-Jubouri, spokesman for the Accordance Front, said the group would not return to parliament until its leader, Adnan al-Dulaimi, was allowed to leave his home. “We walked out today and announced we will not attend the session today or tomorrow unless the pressure is lifted off Dr Dulaimi and he is allowed to move wherever he likes,” Jubouri told Reuters at parliament in Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” government and diplomatic compound.
The standoff could worsen sectarian tension between the minority Sunni Arab community and the Shi’ite-led government at a time when violence in Iraq has been falling but progress toward political reconciliation is still slow.
U.S. forces and the Iraqi government have said they asked Dulaimi to stay at home for his own safety after Iraqi troops arrested dozens of his bodyguards and aides under suspicion of links to a car bomb found near his office.
Dulaimi said he had tried to leave but was told by troops guarding his house that they were ordered to keep him confined. “Today I got dressed and went out and asked the checkpoint (if I could leave). They said: ‘We have orders that you are not allowed to leave the house’. This means I am now under house arrest,” Dulaimi told Reuters by telephone. “This is against the law, the constitution, decency, reconciliation and calm. This should not have happened.”
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh denied Dulaimi was under house arrest. “There are no orders to place Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi under house arrest. He has parliamentary immunity and the government respects the immunity,” Dabbagh told Reuters. “He is in custody for his own protection and because there are investigations going on.”
Under Iraqi law Dulaimi has immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament. But the government has threatened to have his immunity lifted if he is found guilty of crimes.
Iraqi troops arrested dozens of Dulaimi’s bodyguards and aides on Thursday and Friday after pursuing gunmen suspected of a killing who fled into Dulaimi’s office compound.
The U.S. military said one of Dulaimi’s guards had the keys to a car parked outside rigged to a bomb, which U.S. forces blew up on Thursday. Dulaimi has denied any link to the bomb.
Iraq’s parliament met on Saturday and began a second reading of a law to allow members of former leader Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to return to public life.
The law is one of the main measures Washington hopes will reconcile Iraq’s warring communities. But without the participation of Dulaimi’s bloc progress is seen as unlikely.
The Accordance Front pulled its members out of the cabinet in August, demanding more say over security policy.
Iraq has become far less violent over the past several months following a “surge” of 30,000 extra U.S. troops and new tactics aimed at moving soldiers off large bases and into positions in Iraqi neighbourhoods.
Iraqi government figures showed the number of civilians reported killed in November had fallen by 30 percent from the previous month to 538, the lowest number recorded since sectarian bloodshed exploded in early 2006. Early this year the government was recording nearly 2,000 civilian deaths a month. But violence has continued. Suspected al Qaeda militants raided a Shi’ite village north of Baghdad, killing 12 civilians, abducting 35 and burning down eight houses, police said. The U.S. military reported one soldier killed, raising its toll for November to 38, the same figure as October but a large drop from the first half of the year, when more than 100 died each month in April, May and June.