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Arrest warrant issued for Iraqi vice president

From Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
December 19, 2011 -- Updated 2255 GMT (0655 HKT)
Iraq's Interior Ministry says Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi ordered his security guards to carry out bombings.
Iraq's Interior Ministry says Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi ordered his security guards to carry out bombings.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The State Department expresses concern over the warrant
  • The arrest warrant cites Article 4 of the anti-terrorism law
  • Tariq Al-Hashimi's office had said it feared forced false confessions
  • The move comes amid a political crisis and sectarian tensions

Baghdad (CNN) -- An Iraqi investigative committee issued an arrest warrant Monday for the country's vice president, who is accused of orchestrating bombing attacks against government and security officials.

The committee of five judges issued the warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi under Article 4 of the country's anti-terrorism law.

The Interior Ministry, at a news conference, showed what it called confession videos from people identified as security guards for al-Hashimi, the country's Sunni vice president. In the videos, the men described various occasions in which they purportedly carried out attacks under direct orders from al-Hashimi.

One man said he carried out assassination attempts using roadside bombs and guns with silencers. He said some orders came from the vice president and some came through the director of his office. The man also alleged that he and others were told that if they didn't carry out the attacks, their families would be killed.

CNN could not immediately confirm that the men in the videos were bodyguards for al-Hashimi.

Three of the vice president's security guards were detained earlier this month.

Over the past few days, al-Hashimi's office told CNN it feared that his three guards would be forced to make false confessions.

Confession videos in Iraq have been controversial. Human rights groups have reported previously on allegedly forced confessions.

Ali al-Mussawi, media adviser to Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said over the weekend that confessions would link the Sunni vice president to bombings.

Al-Hashimi's office did not answer calls from CNN Monday. Government officials and politicians told CNN he was in Sulaimaniya, saying the vice president had traveled to the Kurdish region along with his counterpart, Shiite Vice President Khudayyer al-Khuzaie, on Sunday to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

It was unknown whether Kurdish officials would provide him safe haven, facilitate his exit to another country, detain him or allow Iraqi forces to detain him.

The arrest warrant Monday came amid a political crisis and growing sectarian tensions in Baghdad that erupted just as the last U.S. soldiers exited Iraq over the weekend.

Iraqiya, a powerful political bloc that draws support largely from Sunni and more secular Iraqis, said it was boycotting Parliament, a move that threatens to shatter Iraq's fragile power-sharing government.

The move pits the largely Sunni and secular coalition against al-Maliki's government.

Iraqiya contends al-Maliki is trying to amass dictatorial power, and many believe al-Maliki was simply waiting for the Americans to leave before making his move.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said Monday, "I hope there wasn't a political influence in this arrest warrant, but in Iraq there has been always a political influence."

In Washington, a spokeswoman for the State Department expressed concern about the issuing of the warrant. Victoria Nuland said the United States is closely monitoring the situation and talking to all parties involved.

Othman called the situation upsetting and confusing, adding that if the accusations are true, al-Hashimi should be brought to justice.

The first purported confession was shown Monday detailed roadside bombings and shooting attacks targeting some government and security officials beginning in 2009.

The person speaking said orders at times came directly from al-Hashimi and at times through his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, who is also a senior member of his staff.

The man said the improvised explosive devices were produced and kept at an abandoned house belonging to al-Hashimi in the al-Yarmouk neighborhood.

He also alleged that the vice president personally thanked him after a number of attacks, and that he was rewarded $3,000 after the first IED attack against a senior Ministry of Health official.

The man in the video said al-Hashimi ordered him to map out security locations and checkpoints for the Baghdad Brigade, which protects the Green Zone.

He said he was speaking out to "clear his conscience" and "expose this criminal."

CNN's Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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