The last US soldier in Iraq has barely left the country after eight years of occupation and already there is sectarian tension.

Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki has accused the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi of using his office to aid terrorism. Shortly after, he moved against his Sunni deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, calling for a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Al-Hashemi has fled to Kurdistan, where he joins a rising number of Sunni exiles. The issue has left Sunnis and secular Shias wondering if they will be targeted in a politicised campaign by an increasingly powerful Al-Maliki. 

The country’s judiciary, which already has a battered reputation, will have a hard time making sure the case against the vice-president is judged on its own merit and not dictated by pressure from the prime minister’s office.

Meanwhile, Iraqiya, which is headed by the Shia, albeit secular-minded, Ayad Allawi has suspended its participation in cabinet meetings. The inclusion of the Sunni-dominated bloc, which has 91 seats in the 325-seat parliament, provided the platform of stability, which allowed the US to pull out, leaving behind a “stable and representative” Iraq.

Their absence does not bode well for Iraq’s future as the disillusion in Sunni-dominated regions grows. At the same time, calls for greater autonomy are on the rise, the latest coming from the northeast Diyala province.

It is less than five years since Saddam Hussein was executed following his capture in 2003. Part of his legacy, however, has been the widespread fear of another dictatorship in Iraq, although it is the Sunni community that now faces the threat. Rising to power on the coat tails of the US military and imposing a semblance of stability in Iraq, Al-Maliki’s critics now accuse him of having all the traits of a dictator in the making. He has done little to answer questions over his commitment to democratic principles in Iraq or calm worries that he is yet another Arab strongman.