Kurds shield Iraq Sunni VP Tareq al-Hashemi
in death squads case
Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi
has been hiding in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan
region since December 2011
. Photo: AP
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Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Iraq's Sunni vice
president on Monday asked for popular support to
fight government charges that he commandeered death
squads and said he would continue to defy arrest
with the help of the nation's powerful Kurds in a
showdown that tests the limits of Baghdad's reach.
The government's case against Vice President Tareq
al-Hashemi deepens tensions in a country still
splintered by Sunni and Shiite sectarian rivalries.
It now also threatens to draw a new wedge between
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and
Kurdish leaders in Iraq's north who refuse to hand
over al-Hashemi for trial.
In a half-hour speech from the capital of the
autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north, al-Hashemi
described the charges against him as "politically
motivated" and said he would not return to Baghdad.
"I renew my determination to stand in a fair trial
in an atmosphere that allows revealing the whole
truth, away from any attempts of fraud or deceit or
pressure," al-Hashemi said in his televised speech
from Irbil. He vowed to remain in the Kurdish
Al-Maliki media adviser Ali al-Moussawi scoffed at
"The only way is to turn himself in to the judicial
authorities and stand before a court and present
whatever evidence that proves he is innocent," al-Moussawi
Last week, a judicial panel in Baghdad concluded
that al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 bombings and
assassinations since 2005. The panel's findings
stemmed from a review of a December warrant for al-Hashemi's
arrest that accused him of paying his bodyguards
$3,000 to kill security forces and government
The warrant was announced the day after U.S. troops
withdrew from Iraq, raising eyebrows among critics
who called it al-Maliki's first attempt at a power
grab without fear of American interference.
Al-Hashemi was visiting the Kurdish region when the
arrest warrant was announced, and has remained there
ever since. The region is part of Iraq but has its
own security forces and has for generations given
asylum to people persecuted by Baghdad — though
mostly during Saddam Hussein's regime.
Al-Maliki and Kurdish regional President Massoud
Barzani have had a rocky relationship for years over
how to share disputed land, oil revenues and federal
funding. Barzani has shown no indication that he
plans on handing over al-Hashemi to Baghdad,www.ekurd.net
and officials in Erbil say doing so could worsen
sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.
Sunnis see the attack on al-Hashemi, the
highest-ranking Sunni political official in the
country, as proof that they'll never be allowed to
share real power in the Shiite-dominated country.
Many Shiites view Sunnis as remnants of Saddam
Hussein's regime with ties to terrorists.
Sending al-Hashemi back to Baghdad "would worsen the
crisis instead of ending it," said Kurdish
government spokesman Fuad Hussein.
"Al-Hashemi is our guest. The last thing Iraq needs
now is new sectarian problems," Hussein said in an
interview last week.
That is likely to infuriate Baghdad.
"Nobody should use a legal matter or case as a tool
to press the government. Justice should be kept away
from political agendas," Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani, a
lawmaker from the Shiite party al-Maliki heads. He
said all of Iraq's jurisdictions — including
Kurdistan — should respect the court's decisions.
In the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, residents took
a certain glee at standing firm against Baghdad.
Sweets seller Saman Karim said it's likely that
Barzani is more interested in snubbing al-Maliki
than he is in helping al-Hashemi.
"The Kurds have no sympathy toward al-Hashemi — they
just want to humiliate the central government,"
How that will shape Iraq's already unstable
political balance is anyone's guess. The Kurdish
parties hold 51 of the 325 seats in parliament, and
are generally considered kingmakers in most
tiebreakers facing the legislature.
Political analyst Reidar Visser, an Iraq expert at
the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs,
said the issue likely will cause the relationship
between al-Maliki and Barzani to deteriorate even
"It is clear that al-Hashemi expects to enjoy
immunity from detention in the Kurdish areas, which
is going to create additional problems for the
long-standing but shaky alliance between the Kurds
and al-Maliki," Visser said.
It's also possible the Kurds will use al-Hashemi as
a bargaining tool, said Kurdish human rights
activist Omar Mohammed. He predicted the Kurds
eventually will hand over al-Hashemi in exchange for
something it wants from Baghdad.
Al-Hashemi said he wanted the trial to be moved to
the northern city of Kirkuk, which is ethnically
shared among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, and where
the investigators or jury would not be tainted by
He also lashed out at the judicial panel, which was
appointed by Iraq's highest court to investigate the
charges. The panel's results aren't legally binding
but they have been passed along to a criminal court
which could choose to charge al-Hashemi with even
more crimes. The panel touted its findings as the
first independent review of al-Hashemi's case, but
critics and some experts said its judges were named
by officials sympathetic to al-Maliki.
"Our judicial system is still working to satisfy
some influential people," al-Hashemi said.
By Lara Jakes and Yaha Barzanji | Associated
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