One week after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, a flare-up in sectarian tensions is threatening to not only invite new violence but tear apart the country’s fragile political arrangement.

Some officials fear the situation, if not properly handled, could reverse post-surge gains and plunge the country back into a climate of sectarian war. U.S. diplomats have conducted a flurry of phone calls and meetings over the past week in a bid to contain the problem and convince Iraq’s political leaders to come together.

At the heart of the dispute is a decision by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, to issue an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The vice president is accused of running hit squads against government officials years ago, but Hashemi denies it and has been holding out in Iraq’s Kurdish region while Maliki demands he be brought into custody.

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