BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Muslim Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi on Monday for suspected ties to assassinations and bombings, a decision likely to fuel sectarian tensions after the U.S. troop withdrawal.
The move risks unravelling Iraq’s fragile power-sharing deal among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs who have struggled to overcome tensions just a few years after sectarian slaughter drove the country to the edge of a civil war.
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 on Iraqi government and security officials.
“An arrest warrant was 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 the document in front of reporters.
The political struggle between Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Sunni rivals in the country’s delicate power-sharing deal has intensified during the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops nearly nine years after the invasion.
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 three men shown on television detailed the assassinations they were told to carry out by Hashemi’s aides including planting roadside bombs and driveby shootings of security and government officials.
One man said he was handed $3,000 as a reward by Hashemi himself.
But 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, making Hashemi’s immediate arrest unlikely.
In a statement earlier on Monday, Hashemi accused Maliki’s government of “deliberate harassment” after his plane was delayed for three hours at Baghdad airport. He had been heading for the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya to meet the Iraqi president.
Security forces arrested three Hashemi bodyguards on their way back from the airport, the statement said, adding military forces surrounding Hashemi’s house for weeks had been beefed up.
“The vice-president has been very patient and is waiting for a reasonable explanation from the government parties concerned,” the statement said.