Iraqi Vice President Denies Directing Death Squads

A day after the Iraqi government issued a warrant for his arrest, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said in a nationally televised news conference that he did not order death squads to assassinate government officials.

As The New York Times puts it, al-Hashemi’s news conference deepens a political crisis and threatens a coalition government between Shiites and Sunnis. Al-Hashemi is the top Sunni politician. The AP reports that the arrest warrant “raised suspicions that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, ordered the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi as part of a campaign to consolidate his hold on power out of a fear that Sunnis in and out of Iraq are plotting against him.”

“The accusations have not been proven, so the accused is innocent until proven guilty,” al-Hashemi said at the news conference, according to The Times. “I swear by God I didn’t do this disobedience against Iraqi blood, and I would never do this.”

Al-Hashemi went on to say that the charges were “political slander.”

The Times adds a bit more from the news conference:

“Standing in front of an Iraqi flag, Mr. Hashimi questioned why Mr. Maliki had waited until the day after the American military withdrew its troops from Iraq to publicly lay out the charges.

“Almost as significant as what Mr. Hashimi said was where he said it: in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan. Because of the region’s autonomy, Mr. Maliki’s security forces cannot easily act on a warrant issued Monday to arrest Mr. Hashimi.”

In an interview with the Daily Beast, al-Hashemi painted a bleak picture of Iraq, saying the stability of the country is deteriorating and that “he now supports a move by three Sunni provinces to seek independence from Baghdad’s central government.”

Al-Hashemi said that the tensions between Sunni and Shiite factions of the government means that “all options are in front of Iraqis,” including splitting the country into three parts — Shiite, Sunni and Kurdistan.

“The situation is really deteriorating, all possibilities now could happen,” al-Hashemi told The Daily Beast. ” I hope this won’t happen. But if you ask my expectation, we have a gloomy picture.”

Note: We use the AP’s spelling of al-Hashemi’s name. Some news organizations use a different spelling.

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