Fugitive Iraqi VP Sentenced to Death
BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president was sentenced Sunday to death by hanging on charges he masterminded death squads against rivals in a terror trial that has fueled sectarian tensions in the country. Underscoring the instability, insurgents unleashed an onslaught of bombings and shootings across Iraq, killing at least 92 people in one of the deadliest days this year.
It’s unlikely that the attacks in 13 cities were all timed to coincide with the afternoon verdict that capped a monthslong case against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a longtime foe of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Still, taken together, the violence and verdict could energize Sunni insurgents bent on returning Iraq to the brink of civil war by targeting Shiites and undermining the government.
Al-Hashemi fled to Turkey in the months after the Shiite-led government accused him of playing a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011 – years in which the country was mired in retaliatory sectarian violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime. Most of the attacks were allegedly carried out by al-Hashemi’s bodyguards and other employees, and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.
The vice president declined to immediately comment on the verdict after meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara. He said he would “tackle this issue in a statement” in coming hours.
The politically charged case – which was announced the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country last December – sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, whom critics say is monopolizing power.
Violence has ebbed significantly, but insurgents continue to stage high-profile bombings and shooting rampages. Al-Qaida’s Iraq branch has promised a comeback in predominantly Sunni areas from which it was routed by the U.S. and its local allies after sectarian fighting peaked in 2007.
“These attacks show al-Qaida’s ability to hit any place in Iraq and at any time,” said Ali Salem, 40, an elementary school teacher in Baghdad. “The lack of security could take us back to zero.”
The worst violence on Sunday struck the capital, where bombs pounded a half-dozen neighborhoods – both Sunni and Shiite – thoughout the day. But the deadliest attacks in Baghdad hit Shiite areas Sunday evening, hours after the al-Hashemi verdict was announced. In all, 42 people were killed in the capital and 120 wounded, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.