Nouri Al Maliki and Tarek Al Hashemi Image Credit: AFP and AP

Dubai: While the Iraqi government celebrated the hosting of the recent Arab Summit as Baghdad's official return to the Arab fold, critics of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki say his policies actually are widening the rift between Iraq and the other Arabs and increasing tension between Sunnis and Shiites in the country.

Gulf rulers snubbed Baghdad, staying away from the summit and sending a message of dissatisfaction. The blunt words of Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, summarised the sentiment in Arab Gulf states. Speaking on Doha-owned Al Jazeera television, he said the no-show was a reflection of the disapproval of Iraq's marginalisation of the minority Sunni community, a policy he insisted was not in the interest of the country or the Arab world.

The tensions came to a boil with the recent visit of Sunni Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He is wanted by the government on "terrorism" charges, which according to Al Hashemi and his supporters are "politically motivated."

Senior Saudi officials greeted Al Hashemi at the airport in an intended snub of the Iraqi prime minister who has fallen out of grace with most of his Arab neighbours because of his close relationship with Iran and his subsequent political stances specifically with regard to Syria and Bahrain.

While Al Maliki denies that the charges are sectarian, his critics point to the fact that more than 90 per cent of the detainees in Iraq are Sunni, and Al Hashemi is the fifth Sunni official to be targeted by the government.

Reconciliation effort

Iraqi House Speaker Osama Al Nujaifi said in a press conference that a meeting that was scheduled for Thursday which was a round-table meeting for all Iraqi political blocs as a reconciliation effort arranged by the Kurds, has been postponed indefinitely because of "mounting differences" on a range of issues.

In a statement to Gulf News, Sami Al Askari, adviser to Al Maliki, said that the Saudi position that Al Hashemi will not return to Iraq before Al Maliki is democratically removed from power reveals that Al Hashemi's departure was encouraged by Kurds.

Other Iraqi politicians feel that the stagnation of the Iraqi political process and the wedge that is widening between Iraq and its Arab neighbours is not only the fault of Al Maliki, but a collective failure of all political blocs in the country.

The divided political scene in Iraq is exactly the design that America intended following its 2003 invasion, according to Iraqi MP Hamid Al Mutlaq. If Al Maliki continues to marginalise politicians, the country will be shredded to pieces, he added.