Iraq's Sunni deputy premier called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down on Monday, saying post-occupation Iraq is becoming a dictatorship.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al Mutlaq warned Iraqis could eventually rise up violently if Al Maliki remains in his post, and pushed for a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in the prime minister if he remains in office.

"The longer Al Maliki stays in power, the higher the possibility of a divided Iraq," Al Mutlaq told Gulf News in an interview.

A spokesman for Al Maliki dismissed Al Mutlaq's comments, saying they are "not worthy of a response".

Al Mutlaq's Sunni-backed Iraqiya party has been boycotting parliament and Cabinet meetings since last month in protest of Al Maliki efforts "to consolidate power, particularly over state security forces."

Al Maliki's government, meanwhile, has demanded the arrest of the country's top Sunni politician, Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi of Iraqiya charging he is "running a hit squad" targeting government officials.

Al Hashemi, who remains holed up in Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, denies the allegations. A guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, he remains effectively out of reach of security forces under Baghdad's control.

The boycott and standoff over Al Hashemi has paralyzed Iraq's government, and pits the leaders of the country's mostly ethnic- and sectarian-based blocs against each other.

"The whole region is going to pay the price of the chaos that may occur in Iraq if the political crisis continues and Al Maliki retains power," Al Mutlaq said.

"Maybe what Iran wants to do is have the Arabs in Iraq fight [other Sunni-dominated Arab states] on behalf of their regime," he added.

Iraq has faced a deteriorating security situation in the six weeks since the Obama administration completed the pullout of US forces in the country.

A series of bombings by Sunni terrorists targeting Shiite neighborhoods and officials in the country have claimed hundreds of lives.