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Fugitive Iraq VP sentenced to death, official says

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
September 10, 2012 -- Updated 0325 GMT (1125 HKT)
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi speaks to reporters at a news conference at Kuwait City's Bayan Palace in January 2008.
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi speaks to reporters at a news conference at Kuwait City's Bayan Palace in January 2008.
  • NEW: More than 79 people were killed in violence across Iraq
  • Iraq's top Sunni politician is convicted over the killing of two people
  • He's accused of other crimes, including running a death squad
  • He says the charges are politically motivated

Baghdad (CNN) -- Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who fled the country months ago, was sentenced to death Sunday, an official said.

The verdict came on a day when a wave of violence across Iraq left at least 79 people dead and 270 wounded.

Together, the death sentence and the violence raise questions about the stability of the country just nine months after U.S. troops were withdrawn.

Al-Hashimi was sentenced to hang "because he was involved directly in killing a female lawyer and a general with the Iraqi army," said Abdul Sattar al-Berqdar, a spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council.

"There are many other charges against al-Hashimi, but this is one of the charges he was convicted of," al-Berqdar said.

Al-Hashimi denies the charges, which include the accusation that he ran death squads. He called the accusations part of a "black comedy" in February.

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"Everybody knows that my case is a political case, from beginning to end, and that the charges against me are fabricated and far from the truth," al-Hashimi said in May.

The death sentence raises the stakes in the controversy around Iraq's top Sunni Muslim politician, who accuses the country's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of pushing the country towards a religious divide.

The arrest warrant for al-Hashimi was issued soon after his Iraqiya party announced it would boycott Parliament, saying al-Maliki was cutting it out of the decision-making process.

His Sunni-majority party has since ended its boycott, though al-Hashimi remains a fugitive.

One of his political allies said Sunday that he did not receive a fair trial because he was not in Baghdad for it.

Nada al-Jabouri, a lawmaker in Iraqiya bloc, also criticized the timing of the sentence, as "Iraq is preparing for a big national reconciliation in the near future in order to achieve stability in this country."

"This will not help," al-Jabouri said.

Iraq's Central Criminal Court sentenced al-Hashimi's son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan to death alongside the politician. Qahtan is not in custody either.

The death sentences are not final and can be appealed, Judicial Council spokesman al-Berqdar told CNN.

Interpol issued a "red notice" for al-Hashimi in May, "on suspicion of guiding and financing terrorist attacks in the country."

The notice calls on the 190 countries that belong to the international police organization to help locate and arrest him at the request of the Iraqi authorities.

No apparent action has been taken to arrest him since the notice was issued four months ago.

Al-Hashimi is now living in a Turkish government guest house in Istanbul.

Before that, he lived in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the invitation of those governments.

In February, Iraq's top judicial committee accused al-Hashimi's security detail of carrying out 150 attacks against security forces and civilians from 2005 to 2011.

Al-Hashimi said the nine-judge council was under the control of the Shiite-dominated central government and denied the charges.

Charges against al-Hashimi appear to be based on the purported confessions of three men, identified as the vice president's security guards. Iraqi state television aired video of the confessions in December, but CNN has not been able to verify the men's identities independently.

Among the confessions was one by a man who detailed roadside bombings and shootings that targeted government and security officials in 2009.

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

Al-Hashimi did not immediately respond to the sentencing on Sunday.

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