Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Muslim Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi on suspected links to terrorism after the government said it obtained confessions from his bodyguards, an interior ministry spokesman said on Monday.
The warrant risks fuelling sectarian tensions in Iraq following the withdrawal of the last American troops almost nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. It also puts the country’s fragile power-sharing agreement at risk.
Interior Ministry spokesman, Major General Adel Daham, told a news conference confessions by suspects identified as Hashemi’s bodyguards, linked the vice president to killings and attacks of several Iraqi government and security officials.
“An arrest warrant has been issued for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi according to Article 4 of the terrorism law and is signed by five judges… this warrant should be executed,” Daham said, waving a copy of what he said was the warrant in front of reporters.
The ministry showed taped confessions, aired on state-run Iraqiya television and other local media, of men it claimed were members of Hashemi’s security detail. The men said they had been paid by his office to carry out killings.
The identity of the men could not be independently confirmed.
Hashemi, who could not be contacted for a response, was in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous enclave in the north, Kurdish political sources said. Kurdistan has its own government and security forces.
Political tensions between Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Sunni partners in the country’s delicate power-sharing deal have sharpened during the U.S. withdrawal as both parties traded accusations and counter charges.
The completion of the U.S. withdrawal on Sunday left many Iraqis fearful that a shaky peace between majority Shi’ites and Sunnis might collapse and reignite sectarian violence.
Two days earlier Maliki asked parliament for a vote of no-confidence against another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, who is deputy prime minister, on the grounds that he lacked faith in the political process.
Hashemi and Mutlaq are both leaders of the Iraqiya bloc, a secular group backed by minority Sunnis, which joined Maliki’s unity government only reluctantly and recently boycotted parliament sessions after complaining of being marginalized, even though it is the single biggest bloc in the assembly.
(Reporting by Rania el Gamal; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Serena Chaudhry/Maria Golovnina)