Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi denied charges of terrorism and said he is ready to testify in his defense after the country’s top court issued an arrest warrant and barred him from travel.
“I have been rewarded for my eight years of work with what you heard,” al-Hashimi said today in a televised news conference in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, referring to the arrest warrant. He questioned the motivation and timing of the accusations, which come as U.S. troops leave Iraq, and said he wants to be tried in Erbil.
Al-Hashimi left Baghdad for Erbil after security forces searched his home and office late yesterday in the capital’s so-called Green Zone and arrested some staff members, according to a person close to the vice president who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to the press.
The arrest warrant marks an escalation of tensions between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led allies and Sunni Muslim politicians, such as al-Hashimi, who have been at odds for more than a year over the formation of a unity government. The leader of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, has called for urgent talks to avoid the collapse of the political process.
“The situation is getting more complicated,” Barzani said in a statement late yesterday. “I call upon all powers to reconcile and to be tolerant and review their adamant stances.”
Call for Talks
After al-Hashimi spoke, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh issued a statement also calling for talks. He said the cabinet was inviting President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the leaders of the various political blocs to discuss developments.
“The political bickering has turned into political war,” said Kadhim al-Miqdad, a Baghdad-based political analyst and university professor in an interview. “After the U.S. pullout there are some influential powers who want to fill the vacuum.”
The front page of today’s Al-Bayan newspaper carries a photo of al-Hashimi framed in red banners bearing the word “WANTED” in English and Arabic. The paper is run by a lawmaker from al-Maliki’s Dawa party, Yaseen Majeed, who is close to the prime minister.
Three of al-Hashimi’s bodyguards were arrested and their alleged confessions aired on state-run al-Iraqiya television yesterday. They said they committed murder at the vice-president’s request and were paid in dollars for their services. Al-Hashimi said the confessions were fabricated.
Baghdad security spokesman Qassim Atta al-Mousawi said the security forces “are committed” to arresting al-Hashimi “in all areas of the country, without exception.”
Political analyst al-Miqdad said he expects the infighting to paralyze Iraq, holder of the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves, as it seeks investment and expertise to help boost energy exports and rebuild an economy and infrastructure destroyed by war, sanctions and sabotage.
“There will be, of course, a delaying of the parliament sessions and this would affect all the future laws that need to be legislated,” al-Miqdad said in an interview. This crisis “will affect investment and internal security,” he said.
Already, one of Iraq’s largest political blocs, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, has suspended its participation in parliament until after lawmakers come back from recess on Jan. 3. Iraqiya, which campaigned on a non-sectarian platform in the last elections, drew support from Sunnis, who represent a fifth of the population.
Iraqiya announced the boycott on Dec. 17, saying it is protesting the arrest of its members. A day later, al-Maliki asked lawmakers to issue a vote of no confidence in his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a member of Iraqiya, who compared al-Maliki to a dictator in a recent television interview.
Talabani said in a statement that he was surprised by the broadcast of the alleged confessions and the arrest warrant. He said the parties concerned had held talks and agreed not to proceed in this manner.