A court has sentenced Iraq's fugitive vice president to hang. Meanwhile, attacks across Iraq killed more than 70 on Sunday.
Tariq al-Hashemi, tried in absentia along with his secretary and son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan - also sentenced to death - dismisses the charges as politically motivated. The trial for the murders of a lawyer and a brigadier general, which began in May, covered some of the 150 charges against Hashemi and his bodyguards. The case has triggered a crisis in the power-sharing government.
On Sunday, the prosecution asked the court to condemn the Sunni Hashemi to death. The defense then read a lengthy closing statement protesting that the trial was unfair and that the court had been exposed to political pressure.
"You are attacking the judicial authority, and you will be held responsible if you continue," the presiding jurist warned the defense before the panel of three passed the sentence, which can be appealed.
Hashemi, born in 1942, became one of Iraq's vice presidents in 2006, about the same time his brother and sister were shot dead in separate attacks. When he assumed the role, Hashemi headed the Iraqi Islamic Party, said to have connections to elements of the Sunni insurgency. The party had represented the driving force in the National Concord Front, which masterminded the Sunni return to the political process after they boycotted the 2005 elections.
Hashemi later founded the Tajdid party, part of the Sunni-backed bloc that fared best in 2010 parliamentary polls, only to be outmaneuvered by Maliki, who retained the premiership. Hashemi fled to Kurdistan, which wouldn't give him to the federal government, and then embarked on a tour that took him to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He has taken refuge in Turkey since April.
In May, Interpol issued an international Red Notice for the arrest of Hashemi on suspicion of "guiding and financing terrorist attacks." The police agency issued the notice, its highest possible alert, under an Iraqi warrant "as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals."
Across Iraq on Sunday, more than 70 people were killed as increasing attacks have raised fears of a return to widespread violence amid sectarian and political tensions. Sunday's deadliest attack occurred near a Shiite shrine in the southern town of Amara, where security officials said back-to-back car bombings killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 50 others. In another major incident overnight, gunmen and a suicide bomber driving a car killed 11 soldiers at a military base in Dujail, 50 kilometers north of Baghdad .
mkg/ccp (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)