BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament speaker warned Monday that human rights violations are putting the country's fragile democracy at risk, the latest pronouncement in a rapidly developing sectarian spat that threatens to destabilize the country after U.S. troops pulled out.
The televised comments by Osama al-Nujaifi, one of the country's top Sunni officials, are the latest salvo in a growing political crisis sparked when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant for the country's top Sunni politician last month.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, controls the ministries that oversee Iraq's police and military. Some of Iraq's minority Sunnis, who fear being marginalized, accuse the prime minister of using the security forces to try to consolidate power.
"The armed forces should not be a tool to repress people and the armed forces should not interfere in political matters," al-Nujaifi said.
"Human rights will not become a reality in a situation where the political process is snarled. ... Losing these rights will destroy democracy," he added.
The parliament speaker, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, al-Maliki's main political rivals, spoke a day before parliament was scheduled to hold its first session of the new year.
Iraqiya suspended its participation in parliament last month to protest al-Maliki's control of key posts, particularly those overseeing security forces.
U.S. troops completed their pullout from Iraq two weeks ago after a nine-year war.
Also Monday, a group that tracks casualties in Iraq said the number of civilians killed in the country's violence increased slightly in 2011.
In its annual report posted online, Iraq Body Count recorded 4,063 civilians killed last year, up from 4,045 in 2010.
On Sunday evening, a convoy carrying Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi was struck by a roadside bomb in Ishaki area, 70 kilometers north of Baghdad, according to Zayed Majid, an adviser to the minister. He said the minister was not hurt, and two bodyguards were wounded.
The head of the provincial health directorate where the blast occurred, Dr. Raed Ibrahim, confirmed the account.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.