Iraqi VP: Extradition push hurts bid to end crisis

January 9, 2012 - 11:11 AM
Mideast Iraq

FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 file photo, Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's Shiite-led government has formally demanded that authorities in the semiautonomous Kurdish region hand over the country's top Sunni official, who is wanted on terrorism charges. Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi had been charged with organizing death squads to assassinate prominent figures several years ago. But al-Hashemi traveled in December to the Kurdish north, where federal authorities cannot arrest him.(AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

QALACHWALAN, Iraq (AP) — The Iraqi Sunni vice president warns a demand that he be turned over for trial in Baghdad hurts efforts to end the country's political crisis.

He's wanted by the Shiite-led government on terrorism charges

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is staying in the semiautonomous northern Kurdish region, out of reach of state security forces. He is accused by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government of running a hit squad that assassinated government officials.

In an interview Monday in the Kurdish town of Qalachwalan, he repeated concerns he cannot get a fair trial in Baghdad. He said his security in the capital cannot be guaranteed.

Instead, he said he wants to have the case heard in the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) — A roadside bomb killed two Shiite pilgrims on Monday, the latest in a wave of attacks targeting the sect that have killed more than 80 people in less than a week and deepened fears of renewed sectarian warfare.

Police and health officials said the blast targeted pilgrims walking to the holy Shiite city of Karbala to commemorate Arbaeen, the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. The attack took place in the Baghdad suburb of Awairij. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Iraqi leaders are locked in a political standoff that began after the Shiite-dominated government called for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's arrest on terrorism charges just as the last American troops were leaving last month.

The standoff is at the heart of an ongoing political crisis pitting the leaders of the country's mostly ethnic- and sectarian-based party blocs against each other. Iraq's Sunni minority dominated the government under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. and some Iraqi officials have warned of a resurgence of Sunni and Shiite militant activity after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Also Monday, an al-Qaida front group in Iraq claimed responsibility for a November bombing inside Baghdad's Green Zone, a heavily protected area in the center of the Iraqi capital.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the Green Zone bombing near parliament as an assassination attempt against him.

The claim of responsibility by the Sunni militants said the suicide attack was targeting "the head of the Iranian project in Iraq," an apparent reference to al-Maliki and the ties of Iraqi Shiites to Shiite-majority Iran. The statement said the attack failed because the car exploded prematurely.

"A hero driving a car bomb was able to penetrate all security measures in the Green Zone," said the statement in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq. "The operation was not completed due to a technical problem and the car exploded while parked at the entrance of the parliament."

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Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.