BAGHDAD — Iraq's political system fell deeper into sectarian turmoil Saturday as its largest Sunni bloc boycotted parliament, refusing to continue until its leader Adnan al Dulaimi returned from what they called house arrest.
Dulaimi, a critic of the Shiite-led government, has been inside his Baghdad home since Friday, shortly after his son and about 40 members of his staff and security team were detained in relation to car bombs and killings nearby. Iraqi forces with U.S. military assistance asked the Accordance Front leader to stay inside for safety reasons, the U.S. military said, but Sunni leaders said his absence, and that of his daughter — legislator Asmaa al Dulaimi — was forced.
During an impassioned argument that spoke to rivalries between Shiites and Sunnis, parliament members disagreed about the terms of Dulaimi's absence, whether it was legal to keep him from parliament and whether they should even be discussing the issue during a criminal investigation.
"This is not a political issue, it is not a sectarian issue," said Sadiq al Rikabi, adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. "We should respect the authority of the judicial system."
Speaker Mahmoud al Mashhadani, a member of the Accordance Front, said al Maliki had ordered the Iraqi squad to protect Dulaimi, but security forces told him Dulaimi was under arrest.
"That means the home arrest was imposed by the field leaders, not by the orders of al Maliki, and that is dangerous precedent," Mashhadani said.
Parliament's minister of state, Safa al Safi, a Shiite, defended the Shiite government, saying that Dulaimi isn't on official house arrest and the incidents near Dulaimi's office are still under investigation.
After the debate, members of the 44-seat Sunni block left. They have not said when they will return.
A statement from the Accordance Front said Dulaimi's absence and the detentions would cause political tension at a time of relative peace and security in Baghdad's neighborhoods.
"In these times, we see the security forces fabricate such a crisis and try to market it so it will leave behind it an atmosphere of chaos and security confusion," the statement read.
Dulaimi couldn't be reached for comment. Sunnis around Iraq condemned what they called the house arrest. Sofyan al Jobori, the spokesman of People of Iraq Conference, said Dulaimi supporters plan to stage a protest Sunday.
Accordance Front member Harith al Obeidi said Dulaimi is expected to return on Sunday, but his followers wouldn't enter until he arrives.
"I think, for myself, this is a home arrest, but the government doesn't want to acknowledge that publicly," Obeidi said. "I believe that the government issued these orders but they didn't want to announce that because this a big step and a dangerous one against a parliament member. If we just let it pass, simply, it will happen again, again, again."
(Also contributing to this story are Special Correspondents: Mohammed al Dulaimy, Jenan Hussein, Laith Hammoudi and Hasan al Jobori)