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 Iraq calls on Kurdistan to arrest and hand over Sunni VP Hashemi before he flees

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Iraq calls on Kurdistan to arrest and hand over Sunni VP Hashemi before he flees  4.3.2012 

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Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has been hiding in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region since December 2011. Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed.
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March 4, 2012

BAGHDAD, — Iraq's government said on Sunday it had demanded the autonomous Kurdistan region hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi for trial on charges of running death squads, a case that caused a political crisis when U.S. troops withdrew last year.

The Iraqi interior ministry on Sunday asked Kurdish authorities to arrest fugitive Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi saying he was planning to flee the country.

Hashemi, a member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, has been accused by Baghdad of running a death squad. He fled to the autonomous Kurdistan region in December 2011, but authorities there have so far declined to hand him over.

"The (Iraqi) interior ministry requested that the interior ministry of the Kurdistan regional government carry out the arrest warrant issued against him and hand him over to judicial authorities," a statement said.

The ministry has reliable information that Hashemi intends "to flee from the (Kurdistan) region to outside Iraq," it said.

The December accusations against the vice president came amid a wider row between Iraqiya and the Shiite-led government.

Iraqiya began a boycott of parliament and the cabinet in December to protest against what it charged was Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's centralisation of power,
www.ekurd.net and called for Maliki to respect a power-sharing deal or quit.

But the bloc's members have since returned to parliament and the cabinet, as the dispute between Iraqiya and the government has cooled off.

Hashemi says the charges are political and has asked that the case be heard in Kirkuk, a town divided mainly between Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

The government says the case is purely criminal, the prosecution is independent and it cannot intervene. A Baghdad judiciary panel rejected moving the case to Kirkuk and set a trial for May in Baghdad.

The leadership of Iraq's Kurdish minority, which has frequently acted as a mediator in quarrels between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs, has become embroiled in the dispute by playing host to Hashemi in the northern zone it controls.

Kurdish Deputy Interior Minister Jalal Kareem told Reuters the regional government had not received a request from the central government that it arrest Hashemi and hand him over.

"When we receive the request we will refer it to the region's council of ministers, as we have a special status and separate legal and administrative entity," he said in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil.

"We will carry out whatever the (Kurdish) council of ministers decides in response to the Interior Ministry's request."

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