Interpol on Tuesday put Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president on the equivalent of its most-wanted list at the behest of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.
Tariq al-Hashemi, who is currently in Turkey, is being tried in absentia in Baghdad on charges of terrorism as well as guiding and financing death squads that targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims. The Iraqi government links him to about 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks, and says the death squads were largely composed of the vice president's bodyguards and other employees.
The trial was postponed last week after lawyers for al-Hashemi, who has denied the charges, appealed to have parliament create a special court to hear the case. The Sunni vice president has vowed not to return to face what he calls politically motivated charges.
Interpol said on its website that it has issued a so-called "red notice" for al-Hashemi, responding to a request from Baghdad. A red notice by Interpol seeks the arrest of a wanted person with a view to eventual extradition. The subjects of red notices are considered to be on the organization's most-wanted list.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the red notice for al-Hashemi "will significantly restrict his ability to travel and cross international borders."
"It is a powerful tool that will help authorities around the world locate and arrest him," Interpol's website quoted Noble as saying.
In response, al-Hashemi issued a statement charging that the Interpol notice "was issued on baseless, politically motivated allegations levied upon me" by al-Maliki, and "International justice is being manipulated by sectarian political forces that are hijacking my country from the path of democracy." Al-Hashemi added, "I am not a criminal and I am not on the run."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters during a visit to Italy that al-Hashemi would likely return to Iraq after finishing medical treatment.
"Mr. al-Hashemi is in our country due to his health problems and to hold talks regarding latest developments," Erdogan said. "I believe, he will return his country following his treatment."
Red notices are based on national warrants, and published at the request of a member state as long as the requests do not violate Interpol regulations. Many member countries consider the notices to be a valid request for the arrest of a suspect, but Interpol cannot demand individual nations make an arrest.
Turkey, which has provided sanctuary to al-Hashemi and is on tense terms with his opponents in the Iraqi government, has not formally responded so far to the Interpol notice.
Al-Hashemi, who has been in Turkey since mid-April, is under the protection of Turkish security agents at a luxury apartment in Istanbul, Turkey's NTV television said. A policeman with a machine gun guards the entrance of his apartment building, and several police cars were parked outside on Tuesday, according to NTV.
In an interview last week in Istanbul, al-Hashemi told The Associated Press that his trial was part of a political vendetta that has wider repercussions for Iraqi unity and sectarian tensions across the Middle East.
He also alleged that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, may have engineered the proceedings to snuff out domestic opposition in case he is threatened by a revolt in Iraq similar to that in neighboring Syria.
Al-Hashemi's representatives maintain he left Iraq for diplomatic meetings with regional leaders, not to escape arrest.
Al-Maliki's media adviser, Ali al-Moussawi, on Tuesday called on al-Hashemi to return to Iraq and face trial.
"After the issuing of this red notice, I think that the best choice for al-Hashemi now is to return to Iraq and stand a fair trial," al-Moussawi told the AP.
Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.