x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fugitive Iraq vice president rejects death sentence

Tareq Al Hashemi has rejected his murder conviction and death sentence, and ruled out returning home from Turkey until he is guaranteed "security and a fair trial".

BAGHDAD // Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president yesterday declared his “absolute innocence” after he was sentenced to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals.

Tariq Al Hashemi, who fled Iraq after the government brought charges against him, rejected the conviction against him as a politically motivated sham and said he would not return to appeal the verdict unless he could be assured of a fair day in court.

But Al Hashemi said a fair trial would be impossible in Baghdad and accused the prime minister Nouri Al Maliki – a Shiite and the vice president’s longtime foe – of manipulating the courts against him as part of a political vendetta.

“The verdict is unjust, politicised, illegitimate and I will not recognise it,” Al Hashemi said in Ankara. “But I put it as a medal of honor on my chest because it was Al Maliki, not anyone else, behind it.”

“The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to my love for my country and my loyalty to my people,” he said. “I reiterate that I’m innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under Al Maliki’s influence.”

Asked directly if he will return to Baghdad within 30 days to seek a retrial, as is his right under Iraqi law, Al Hashemi said: “I’m not going, regardless of the time scale that has been offered to me.”

Al Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq’s Shiite-led government issued the terror charges against him in December, the day after US troops withdrew from the country.

The politically charged case sparked a government crisis and fuelled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against Mr Al Maliki, whom critics say is monopolising power.

On Sunday, Baghdad’s criminal court convicted Al Hashemi and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, of organising the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president’s allies in terror cases. In a third case, the two defendants were acquitted of the killing of a security officer due to a lack of evidence.

The charges were the first against Al Hashemi to go to trial among the government’s allegations that he played a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011 – years in which the country was mired in sectarian violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Most of the attacks were allegedly carried out by Al Hashemi’s bodyguards and other employees, and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.

Sunday’s verdict was announced as Iraq reeled from a day of bombings and shootings that left 92 people dead and more than 360 wounded in nearly two dozen attacks across the country. Yesterday, in a statement posted on a militant website, Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq claimed responsibility for the wave of violence and vowed there will be more “black days ahead”.

Most of the court evidence against Al Hashemi came from 10 of his former bodyguards who testified they were ordered by Qahtan, and then paid, to carry out killings in small groups.