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Could Iraq descend into a civil war again? (VIDEO)

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It's been less than three days since the last US combat troops left Iraq. But in the interim, the cold war in Iraq's parliament between the main Sunni Arab political bloc and the coalition of Shiite parties behind Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has veered toward open political combat and dramatically heightened the risk of a full return to civil war. Whatever restraining influence the US once had appears to be gone.

Iraqiyya, the largely Sunni bloc of Iyad Allawi, has withdrawn its legislators from parliament, armored personnel carriers manned by loyalists of Prime Minister Maliki have been stationed outside the homes of some of his political opponents, and the government has leveled serious terrorism charges against one of the most prominent Sunni politicians in the country – Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlak, a fellow Sunni, has also been targeted to be ousted from his post by Maliki's allies in Parliament.

Desperate negotiations are currently under way to head off what could easily become Iraq's most serious political crisis in years. Vice President Hashemi's plane was held on the tarmac of Baghdad's airport for a few hours on Sunday, with the government insisting he was barred from leaving the capital pending the outcome of a terrorism investigation. He was eventually allowed to fly to Irbil, in Kurdistan, where Kurdish leaders are trying to ward off a political collapse that could push Iraq back to open warfare.

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