Interpol calls for Iraq vice-president Hashemi's arrest

Reuters News
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Posted: May 08, 2012 10:54 AM
Interpol calls for Iraq vice-president Hashemi's arrest

By Suadad al-Salhy and Vicky Buffery

BAGHDAD/PARIS (Reuters) - Interpol called for the arrest of fugitive Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi at the request of Iraqi authorities on Tuesday on suspicion of planning attacks, a move likely to complicate attempts to defuse Iraq's simmering political crisis.

Hashemi, a top Sunni Muslim politician with the Iraqiya block, fled Baghdad in December when the Shi'ite-led government accused him of running death squads, sparking a dispute that risked upsetting the country's delicate power-sharing agreement.

The vice-president, who is thought to be in Istanbul, has denied he was involved in murdering six judges and other officials. He says the charges are politically motivated and has refused to stand trial in Baghdad.

The case strained Iraq's fragile coalition of Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs and generated fears of a return to the broad sectarian violence that wracked the country during the darker days of the war in 2006-2007.

"From the beginning we said that Hashemi's case was politicized and the Interpol memo is a part of this politicization," said Ahmed al-Massari, a senior Iraqiya's lawmaker.

"This is an escalation... while some Iraqi political blocs are trying to meet to solve problems, those which head the government are creating problems," he said.

The Hashemi case is being closely monitored by Iraq's neighbors concerned about the turmoil spinning into more Sunni versus Shi'ite violence, just months after the last American troops left the country in December.

"At the request of Iraqi authorities, Interpol has published a Red Notice for Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi on suspicion of guiding and financing terrorist attacks in the country," Interpol said in a statement.

The Red Notice did not amount to an international arrest warrant, but was a call on forces in its 190 member countries to help locate al-Hashemi and bring him to justice.

Turkey's Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, told a news conference in Rome while on a trip to Italy that he believed Hashemi would return to Iraq after medical treatment.

"Hashemi continues with his initiatives regarding his legal problems," Erdogan said. "We gave him all kinds support on this issue and we will continue to do so."

MURDER CHARGES

Interpol said the notice would restrict Hashemi's ability to travel and cross borders.

Hashemi's trial was postponed a week ago after his lawyers argued that it should be held in a special court for political figures, and it is scheduled to resume on Thursday.

The trial focuses on three murders involving the assassination of three government officials. Hashemi and his bodyguards are also charged with the murders of six judges.

Since December when Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government accused Hashemi and sought the ouster of another leading Sunni politician, many Iraqi Sunni's say they fear he is trying to sideline them to consolidate his power.

The country's political crisis has been complicated since last month when the country's autonomous Kurdistan region halted oil exports and hinted it could break away from Baghdad in a long-running dispute over oil and land rights.

Four senior Iraqi political figures have threatened Maliki with a vote of no confidence unless he stops engaging in what they called "autocratic" decision-making at the expense of other partners in the power-sharing government.

But the country's Shi'ite, Sunni-backed and Kurdish blocs are still haggling over an agreement that will break their political impasse. Most blocs are sharply split over how to end the crisis and who might replace Maliki if his critics muster a vote against him.

(Additional reporting by Seda Sezer in Istanbul; Writing by Patrick Markey in Baghdad; Editing by Louise Ireland and Barry Malone)