Iraq’s fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said Monday he rejected the death sentence he was handed by a Baghdad court which found him guilty of murder.
“I totally reject” the verdict, Hashemi told reporters in Turkey a day after he was sentenced to death by the Iraqi court, whose verdict he said was “politically motivated,” AFP reported.
Hashemi urged Iraqis to oppose Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who he accused of stoking sectarian tensions, a day after a Baghdad court sentenced him to death in absentia.
Hashemi, a senior Sunni politician, fled Iraq earlier this year after authorities sought his arrest on charges he ran a death-squad. He accused Maliki of a political witch-hunt and refused to stand trial in a court he said was biased.
“My people, don’t give Maliki and those who stand behind him the chance,” Hashemi told reporters. “They want to make this a sectarian strife. Oppose his conspiracies and provocation calmly... People should not stay silent on the unprecedented oppression in Iraq,” he said according to Reuters.
“I am not going regardless of the time (limit). All I need is security, a fair court,” Hashemi told a news conference in Ankara.
Iraqiya, the secular, Sunni-backed bloc of which Hashemi is a member and which has been at odds with Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, slammed the court's decision in a statement on Monday.
The sentence came under “widespread practices of distorting justice, including severe torture to which the accused were exposed,” Iraqiya said, in an apparent reference to Hashemi’s guards.
“The conduct of the trials from the first day reinforces the belief that the decision of the special court was politicized and expected.”
“The sentence was issued in absentia and in the shadow of a complex security crisis,” it said. “Instead of calming the situation, the political fronts carried out a group of repressive measures.”
“These practices culminated in the political judgment on the vice president of the republic,” said Iraqiya.
Iraq was hit by a series of intertwined political crises that began in mid-December last year, though the tensions seemed to have decreased somewhat in the past few months.
In December, Iraqiya began a boycott of parliament and then the cabinet, though they were lifted in January and February, respectively.
Maliki meanwhile sought to sack Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, an Iraqiya member who labeled the premier as “worse than Saddam Hussein.”
And an arrest warrant was issued for Hashemi, who fled to Kurdistan, then travelled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and then Turkey.
Tensions between Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region and Baghdad centered on power-sharing and oil also flared, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr also issued sharp criticism of Maliki, and various opponents of the premier sought a vote of no confidence in him.
Such a vote was not held, however, and political tensions in Iraq appear to have abated compared with earlier in the year. But the Hashemi verdict may reignite them.
“Yes, I think it will increase political tensions in Iraq. Bear in mind also that the relationship between Baghdad and Ankara may worsen over the coming months as well,” said John Drake, an analyst with AKE group.
“In terms of reigniting the Iraqiya-Maliki crisis, it will certainly fuel tensions between the two. This could in turn lead to more public debates and parliamentary deadlock, slowing down the passing of legislation,” he said.
He also noted that “the Sunni community may feel increasingly persecuted by the ongoing moves against Hashemi. Sectarian relations will also be harmed by the latest bombings so the outlook does not look good.”
Iraq was hit by a wave of more than 30 attacks on Saturday and Sunday that left dozens of people dead and hundreds of others wounded.
Bringing the attacks into the political fray, a high-ranking security official on Monday said that a group linked to Hashemi was behind the violence.