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Baghdad hit by attacks as VP death squad trial opens

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Gun and bomb attacks struck the Baghdad area where Iraq’s fugitiveVice President Tareq al-Hashemi was to go on trial in absentia Thursday on charges he says are politically motivated.

Hashemi, the country’s top Sunni official, stands accused along with several of his bodyguards of running a death squad but the vice president will not attend the trial in Baghdad, having left Iraq weeks ago.

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Hours before the trial was due to open, shootings and bombings erupted in the Harithiyah neighbourhood where the Central Criminal Court of Iraq is situated, albeit not in the immediate vicinity of the court compound.

A shooting at around 8:00 am (0500 GMT) left an Iraqi soldier dead, while at around the same time, three roadside bombs wounded two police bomb disposal experts, an interior ministry official said.

Thursday’s trial is to tackle the “assassination of the general director in the national security ministry, an officer in the interior ministry and a lawyer,” according to judicial spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar.

The charges against Hashemi were first levelled in December after US troops completed their pullout, sparking a political crisis that saw the vice president’s bloc boycott cabinet and parliament over accusations Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was monopolising power.

Hashemi and some of his guards were on Monday also charged with killing six judges, as Bayraqdar put the overall number of accusations against the group at about 150.

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Bayraqdar, who said further charges could still be filed, did not provide a breakdown of the accusations, or say how many Hashemi himself faces.

He said that around 13 of Hashemi’s guards had been released for lack of evidence, leaving some 73 others.

After the charges were filed, the vice president, who insists they are politically-motivated, fled to the autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq, whose authorities declined to hand him over to the central government.

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They then allowed him to leave on a tour of the region that has taken Hashemi to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey.


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