FACTBOX-Key political risks to watch in Iraq
By Jim Loney
BAGHDAD Feb 2 (Reuters) - Iraq's worst political crisis in a year eased slightly as the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc this week ended a parliamentary boycott but tensions remained high as Baghdad's worries grew over relations with neighbours Iran and Turkey.
The end of the boycott did little to signal the end of rifts between the fractious members of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition government, and Maliki's actions did nothing to ease Sunni concerns he is trying to consolidate power.
The Iraqi leader's relations with Turkey, a key investment partner, have grown testy and Baghdad has expressed concern about Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, which could strangle the movement of Iraqi oil to world markets at a moment when it expects to step up exports sharply.
The political machinations have unfolded against a backdrop of increased violence as Iraq's still-lethal insurgency stepped into the void with some of its biggest attacks in a year, calling into question the readiness of Iraqi security forces after the departure of the last U.S. troops in mid-December.
The Maliki government's move to arrest Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, coupled with Maliki's request to parliament to fire Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, another prominent Sunni, triggered the political crisis and raised fears of renewed sectarian violence.
Hashemi fled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region to avoid arrest, further raising tensions between the Kurds and the central government, which already have longstanding disputes over oil, land and constitutional rights.
The political crisis and a Kurdish oil exploration deal with oil giant Exxon Mobil could push disputes between Baghdad and the Kurds to new heights, increasing anxiety in Iraq's disputed territories, already a potential faultline for conflict without U.S. troops to act as a buffer.
While violence has fallen since the worst days of sectarian conflict, bombings, assassinations and other attacks by Sunni Islamist insurgents and Shi'ite militias still occur daily and scores of people are killed every month. Continued...