Iraq's Sunni Vice-President Hashemi 'ran death squads'

Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi. File photo Tariq al-Hashemi has now taken refuge Iraq's northern Kurdish region

Iraq's judicial panel has backed accusations against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi that he was behind attacks on security officials and Shia pilgrims.

The panel - set up by the Supreme Judicial Council - said he had orchestrated such attacks for years.

In December, an arrest warrant was issued for him by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, triggering a row between Shia and Sunni politicians.

Mr Hashemi denies the charges.

He has taken refuge in Iraq's Kurdish region in the north.

On Thursday, the nine-judge panel said Mr Hashemi and his associates had been running death squads for years and had been involved in at least 150 separate cases.

Sunni leaders have questioned the independence of the panel.

The day after his arrest warrant was issued last year, there were major bomb attacks in Baghdad, raising fears of a return to sectarian conflict, the BBC's Sebastian Usher says.

Sunni leaders then boycotted parliament and the cabinet. But they have since returned, raising hopes the crisis might be kept under control.

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