Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is charged with running a death squad, told AFP in an interview on Sunday he would not go to Baghdad to stand trial and raised the prospect of fleeing Iraq.
In an Al Arabiya report, Hashemi said that the charges being set against him are of “sectarian nature” and are used only to get rid of him. Warning of sectarian consequences in the conflict-torn country, the wanted vice president said that he can only stand for trial in the Kurdish autonomous region as oppose to Baghdad, as it is independent from the country’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s grip.
He, holed up at an official guesthouse of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Kurdistan, acknowledged his guards may have carried out attacks, but he has steadfastly denied any involvement.
The warrant against Hashemi, issued nearly a week ago, has been the focus of a political row between Shiite al-Maliki and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which is a part of his national unity government and of which Hashemi is a member.
In addition to the charges that Hashemi was behind the November bombing targeting the parliament, on Thursday, an Al Arabiya correspondent said that Mithal al-Alousi, a Sunni politician, reported that he had evidence linking Hashemi to the killing of his sons as well. Hashemi has also suffered from violence, as some of his siblings were murdered in the violence that has beset the country. Some observers claimed that al-Alousi avenged his sons’ killings through the murder of Hashimi’s relatives.
Asked if he would return to Baghdad to face trial, Hashemi told AFP: “Of course not.” He attributed his refusal to travel to the capital to poor security and politicization of the justice system.
He said most of his guards had been arrested and had their weapons confiscated, adding that “there is no security for the vice president. How can I come back to Baghdad if I cannot secure myself?”
“The Iraqi judicial council is under the control and the influence of the central government, and this is a big problem,” Hashemi added in a one-hour interview during which he was surrounded by unarmed guards.
“That is why I asked to move the case to Kurdistan. ... Justice here will not be politicized.”
U.S. urges dialogue
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged leaders of Iraq’s feuding political and sectarian factions Sunday to convene a “dialogue” to head off a worsening political crisis, the White House said.
It said Biden made the comments while speaking by telephone with Maliki and Kurd leader Massud Barzani to discuss “the current political climate in Iraq.”
Since U.S. troops completed their withdrawal a week ago, Iraq has been mired in political crisis, with Hashemi wanted and Maliki calling for the sacking of his Sunni deputy after the latter called him a dictator “worse than Saddam Hussein.”
Iraqiya, the bloc of Hashemi and deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak, has boycotted parliament and the cabinet in protest at Maliki’s alleged centralization of power.
Coupled with a spate of attacks on Thursday in Baghdad which killed 60 people, the row has heightened sectarian tensions in the country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, has said Ankara would not turn Hashemi away if he requested asylum, but said he should stay in Iraq.
“I have no intention to leave Iraq at this time, unless my personal security is endangered,” Hashemi said in Sunday's interview. “Then, we will talk about this.”
He added that he was still fulfilling his duties as vice president, and “if I decide to travel outside Iraq, it will be related to my responsibilities as a vice president and not to have political asylum.”
The arrest warrant against Hashemi was issued on Monday, after authorities aired footage of what they claimed were the vice president's guards confessing to carrying out attacks, for which they said they received financial and moral support from Hashemi himself.
“I don’t know why he did this,” Hashemi said, referring to Maliki. “Even if there were accusations and crimes committed by my bodyguards, we could have postponed it (the warrant).”
“I don’t know why this happened the day after the last American soldier left,” the vice president added.
Previously, the Turkey-based newspaper, Today’s Zaman, reported that some Turkish diplomats said that Hashemi can come any time to the Anatolian country.
The diplomats who wanted to remain anonymous told the newspaper that “Hashemi, in his capacity as Iraqi vice president, could come to Turkey any time he desires.”
On Tuesday, Maliki threatened to resign if the parliament did not give a vote of no-confidence against al-Mutlak, and urged the Kurdish region to turn over Hashemi to the government.
Mutlak said his Sunni-backed political block is being increasingly marginalized by Maliki, in an interview with Al Arabiya TV.
On Thursday, a series of coordinated bombings rocked the Iraqi capital, killing at least 67 people and injuring as many as 185 others in the worst violence in Iraq for months and shortly after the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from the conflict-ridden country.