Iraq VP death sentence threatens new crisis



BAGHDAD, W.G. Dunlop- A death sentence issued by an Iraqi court against fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has raised tensions in a political crisis that has paralysed the government for months.
Hashemi, who is currently in Turkey, was sentenced to hang on Sunday for the murders of a lawyer and a brigadier general, in a trial that covered just the initial of some 150 charges against him and his bodyguards.



Iraq VP death sentence threatens new crisis
The leading Sunni Arab politician, who has been accused of running a death squad, on Monday rejected the conviction and sentence and ruled out returning to Iraq until he is guaranteed security and "a fair court according to the Iraqi constitution, which is not available for the time being."
Iraqiya, the secular, Sunni-backed bloc of which Hashemi is a member and which has been at odds with Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, slammed the court's decision in a statement on Monday.
The sentence came under "widespread practices of distorting justice, including severe torture to which the accused were exposed," Iraqiya said, in an apparent reference to Hashemi's guards.
"The conduct of the trials from the first day reinforces the belief that the decision of the special court was politicised.
"The sentence was issued in absentia and in the shadow of a complex security crisis," it said. "Instead of calming the situation, the political fronts carried out a group of repressive measures.
"These practices culminated in the political judgement on the vice president of the republic," said Iraqiya.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said the timing of the verdict was "regrettable" and that Hashemi "is still officially in office, which could become an unhelpful factor that ... may complicate efforts to achieve national reconciliation."
Talabani has sought to convene a national conference aimed at bridging sharp political differences in Iraq, but it has been repeatedly delayed.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh warned of possible revenge attacks over the Hashemi verdict, and said that once any appeals are completed, he should be removed from office.
"I don't think that will stop the national dialogue, but it might have an influence on the security," Dabbagh told AFP, speaking in English.
"We think that there are cells connected with those (militant) groups surrounding Mr Hashemi. They might try to (take) revenge.
"Once the appeal will be finalised and fulfilled ... this step needs to be taken by the parliament," he said, referring to removing Hashemi from office.
As a "guilty person, he will never (be) allowed to hold that position."
Iraq has been mired in a series of intertwined political crises since December last year.
Iraqiya briefly boycotted both parliament and the national unity government at the turn of the year.
Maliki meanwhile sought to sack Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, an Iraqiya member who labelled the premier as "worse than Saddam Hussein."
And an arrest warrant was issued for Hashemi, who fled to Kurdistan, then travelled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and finally Turkey.
"Yes, I think it will increase political tensions in Iraq. Bear in mind also that the relationship between Baghdad and Ankara may worsen over the coming months as well," said John Drake, an analyst with AKE group.
"In terms of reigniting the Iraqiya-Maliki crisis, it will certainly fuel tensions between the two. This could in turn lead to more public debates and parliamentary deadlock, slowing down the passing of legislation," he said.
He also noted that "the Sunni (Arab) community may feel increasingly persecuted by the ongoing moves against Hashemi. Sectarian relations will also be harmed by the latest bombings, so the outlook does not look good."
Iraq was hit by a wave of more than 30 attacks on Saturday and Sunday that left dozens of people dead and hundreds more wounded.
Bringing the attacks into the political fray, a high-ranking security official charged on Monday that groups linked to Hashemi were behind the violence.
And Talib Kadhim al-Hassan, the governor of Dhi Qar province, said that 18 members of Hashemi's Tajdid party had been arrested for planning bombings that killed three people in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Sunday.
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Tuesday, September 11th 2012
W.G. Dunlop
           


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