Middle East

Iraq VP Tariq al-Hashemi rejects guilty verdict

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Media captionIraq VP al-Hashemi: "I totally reject the unfair verdict"

Fugitive Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has rejected a guilty verdict and death sentence passed on him in absentia as "politically motivated".

In remarks at a press conference in neighbouring Turkey, he launched a stinging attack on the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

On Sunday, an Iraqi court found Hashemi guilty of running death squads.

Hashemi was the most senior Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq and his case has sparked a political crisis.

Hashemi insisted he was innocent of the charges and said he would continue to serve his country.

He said that he would be prepared to face a "fair trial" but that the Iraqi courts were under Mr Maliki's influence.

Sectarian tensions

He described the verdict as a "medal on my chest".

He went on to accuse Mr Maliki's predominantly Shia-led government of "pushing for" increased sectarian strife and urged his supporters to show a "high standard of self-discipline".

The political crisis around Hashemi's case has coincided with a sharp upswing in violence in Iraq.

On Sunday, 92 people were killed and more than 350 injured in more than 20 attacks across Iraq.

In a thinly veiled reference to Iran, Hashemi also complained of the "growing influence of neighbouring countries in our internal affairs".

Many Iraqi Sunnis believe they are being marginalised and targeted by Shias, who have grown in influence since the US-led invasion.

Hashemi accused Mr Maliki's government of "corruption and discrimination".

Image caption Violence in Iraq has surged in recent months against the backdrop of the political crisis

He also accused the US government of "turning a blind eye" to Mr Maliki's "disastrous conduct" because of the forthcoming US presidential elections.

'Terror attacks'

Hashemi is a member of the secular, mainly Sunni Iraqiyya political bloc and has been vice president since 2006.

However, on 19 December 2011, the day after the last US troops left the country, the Iraqi government issued a warrant for Hashemi's arrest.

It accused him of orchestrating terror attacks on officials and security forces.

Hashemi fled first to the largely autonomous Kurdish north of the country, and from there to Qatar and on to Turkey.

Prosecutors said Hashemi was involved in 150 killings. During his trial in absentia in Baghdad, some of his former bodyguards said Mr Hashemi had ordered murders.

The court also found Hashemi's son-in-law guilty of two murders and sentenced him to death by hanging. The judge dismissed a third charge for lack of evidence.