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Fugitive Iraq VP says he will stay in Kurdish zone

Fugitive Iraq VP says he will stay in Kurdish zone

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said on Monday he would stay in the autonomous Kurdish zone unless he was told he had become an "embarrassment" to the Kurdish authorities.

March 6, 2012 11:10 by

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led central government wants to try Hashemi – one of the country’s top Sunni politicians – on charges of running death squads, in a case that raised fears of an increase in sectarian tension after U.S. troops withdrew in December.

The central government issued an arrest warrant for Hashemi on the eve of the U.S. withdrawal, prompting a political crisis which saw Hashemi’s bloc announce a boycott of parliament and the cabinet.

The crisis has abated somewhat in recent weeks after most members of the Iraqiya bloc decided to lift the boycott, but Hashemi has remained holed up in the autonomous Kurdish zone in the north of the country.

He says he cannot receive a fair trial in Baghdad and has asked to be tried in Kirkuk, a city divided between Sunni Arabs and Kurds. A judicial panel refused the request and set a trial for May in Baghdad, and Iraq’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday it had demanded the Kurdish authorities arrest him.

Speaking on al-Hurra, an Arabic-language satellite television broadcaster, Hashemi said he had no plans to quit the Kurdish region as long as he was permitted to remain.

“I will stay in Kurdistan unless Kurdistan says that the status of Hashemi is causing us an embarrassment,” he said.

By sheltering Hashemi, the Kurds – who have their own courts and police force – have been drawn into his dispute with the central government.

The Kurdish region’s Deputy Interior Minister Jalal Kareem told Reuters on Sunday the region had not received the request from the central government’s Interior Ministry to turn over Hashemi, but would make its own decision once it did.

“We will carry out whatever the (Kurdish) council of ministers decides in response to the Interior Ministry’s request,” he said. (Writing by Peter Graff)

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