Iraq's fugitive VP sentenced to death

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a top critic of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was convicted of murder on Sunday and sentenced to death by hanging, in a decision likely to renew political tensions.

Hashemi, tried in absentia, has dismissed all charges against him as politically motivated. A Baghdad court also tried in absentia his secretary and son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan and sentenced him to death.

The trial for the murder of a lawyer and a brigadier general, which began in May, covered the first of around 150 charges levelled against Hashemi, who has been accused of running a death squad, and his bodyguards.

Sunday’s hearing opened with the prosecution asking the court to condemn Hashemi, one of Iraq’s most senior Sunni officials, to death for the two murders but to drop a charge of involvement in another top security official’s killing. The defence lawyers then read a lengthy closing statement protesting that the trial was unfair and the court exposed to political pressure.

A judge at one point interrupted, warning the defence lawyer: “You are attacking the judicial authority and you will be held responsible if you continue.”

The sentence was issued after about 30 minutes of deliberation by the three judges.
Hashemi became one of Iraq’s vice presidents in April 2006 when he was the head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a group said to have connections to Iraq’s Sunni insurgency. The party was the driving force in Iraq’s Sunni-led National Concord Front, which helped mastermind the return of the country’s Sunni minority to power after the community boycotted January 2005 elections.

Hashemi fled to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region and has taken refuge in Turkey.

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