Middle East

Fugitive Iraqi VP gets death sentence as bombs kill 58

Aug. 30, 2012 file photo, Iraq's vice president Tariq al-Hashemi speaks in Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo, File)

BAGHDAD: Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death for murder on Sunday in a ruling likely to further stoke sectarian tensions just hours after a wave of bombings killed 58 people across the country.

Hashemi, a senior Sunni Muslim politician, fled Iraq after authorities accused him of running a death squad, charges that triggered a crisis in power-sharing among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs as U.S. troops were pulling out in December.

The vice president is unlikely to return to Iraq from Turkey. He had accused Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of orchestrating a crackdown on Sunni opponents and refused to appear in a court he said was biased.

Hashemi and his son-in-law were both found guilty of murdering a female lawyer and security official, Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a judiciary spokesman said.

"This is a political decision. All our respect to the Iraqi judicial system, but this was political," said lawmaker Jaber al-Jaberi, a member of Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.

Hashemi's lawyer said there would be no appeal because the trial was conducted in absentia.

Since the last U.S. troops left, Maliki's Shiite-led government has been in political deadlock, and insurgents continue to strike, hoping to spark the kind of sectarian tensions that drove Iraq close to civil war in 2006-2007.

Hours before the sentencing was announced, a wave of bombings and shootings killed at least 58 people across the country from the northern city of Kirkuk to southern Nassiriya where a car bomb hit a French consular office.

The most serious of the bombings happened near the city of Amara, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad, when two car bombs exploded outside a Shiite shrine and a market place, killing at least 16 people, officials said.

With its main hospital overflowing with the injured, mosques in Amara used prayer loudspeakers to call for blood donations.

Overnight in Dujail, 50 km (30 miles) north of Baghdad, gunmen and a suicide bomber driving a car attacked a military base, killing 11 soldiers and injuring seven, police said.

Later on Sunday, a car bomb killed eight people queuing for jobs as police guards for the Iraqi North Oil Company in the flashpoint city of Kirkuk, 250 km north of Baghdad, police said.

More were killed in bombings in the towns of Kirkuk, Baquba, Samarra, Basra and Tuz Khurmato.

The car bomb outside the building housing the French consular office in Nassiriya, 300 km south of Baghdad, killed a police guard and wounded four, authorities said. The consul, an Iraqi citizen, was not at the office.

After the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and the rise of Iraq's Shi'ite majority to power, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been sidelined.

Sunni politicians say Maliki is failing to live up to agreements to share government power among the parties, a charge his backers dismiss by pointing to Sunnis in key posts.

When the Hashemi charges were announced at the end of last year, his Iraqiya party called for a boycott of parliament and the cabinet. But the party has since splintered further.

Violence in Iraq has eased since the darker days of sectarian slaughter after the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam. But insurgents are still carrying out at least one major coordinated attack a month.

Infighting in the cross-sectarian government, and a resurgence of a local al Qaeda wing, are raising fears of a return to broader violence, especially as Iraq struggles to contain spillover from Syria's crisis over the border.

Iraq's local al Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for major attacks on security forces and Shiite neighborhoods. Former members of Saddam's outlawed Baathist party and other Sunni Islamist groups are also fighting the government.





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