Iraq: fugitive VP Tariq al-Hashemi sentenced to death in absentia
Iraq’s fugitive vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi has been sentenced to death in absentia after a court found him guilty of running death squads.
The court ruling came as at least 45 people were killed in a wave of about 24 attacks across Iraq.
Tariq al-Hashemi was the most senior Sunni Muslim in the predominantly Shia Iraqi government until he was charged last December and went on the run.
The charges against him sparked a political crisis in Iraq.
Other Sunni politicians denounced Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – who issued the warrant for Tariq al-Hashemi – as a dictator, accusing him of deliberate provocation that risked plunging the country back into sectarian conflict.
Correspondents say the fragile government coalition between Sunnis, secularists and Shia has seemed in danger of collapse ever since.
Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaeda have been blamed for much of the recent violence in Iraq.
The Iraqi government issued the warrant for Tariq al-Hashemi’s arrest on 19 December 2011, the day after the last US troops left the country.
He fled first to the largely autonomous Kurdish north of the country, and from there to Qatar and on to Turkey.
Prosecutors said Tariq al-Hashemi was involved in 150 killings. During his trial in absentia in Baghdad, some of his former bodyguards said Tariq al-Hashemi had ordered murders.
He says the charges against him are politically motivated and has accused PM Nouri al-Maliki of fuelling sectarianism.
On Sunday, an Iraqi court found Tariq al-Hashemi and his son-in-law guilty of two murders and sentenced him to death by hanging. The judge dismissed a third charge for lack of evidence.
Although violence has decreased since its peak in 2006 and 2007, attacks have escalated again after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq at the end of last year, amid increasing political and sectarian tensions.
The Iraqi government has been hampered by divisions between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish political groups.
The Iraqi government said July 2012 was the deadliest month in nearly two years, with 325 people killed.
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, and many Sunnis believe they are being penalized by Shias, who have grown in influence since the US invasion.
Sunnis have accused Nouri al-Maliki of taking an authoritarian approach to government.