By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Iraqi judicial panel has found that Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi and his employess ran death squads that killed both security officials and Shi’ite pilgrims. The findings, the first independent assessment of accusations against the vice president, are likely to increase sectarian tensions in the already politically divisive case.
Al-Hashemi has denied the charges, and the accusations themselves have angered many Sunnis who see them as part of a campaign by the Shi’ite prime minister to push them out of Iraqi politics.
The announcement comes at the end of a two-month investigation where the nine-judge panel found at least 150 cases of either al-Hashemi, his bodyguards, or his other employees with links to violent attacks such as roadside bombs and the assassination of security agents and Shi’ite pilgrims.
A statement from Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar did not offer any evidence to support the panel’s conclusions.
Decisions from the panel are not legally binding.
The Interior Ministry, which is run by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi in December.
The case originates in part from television footage that aired on state-run television in December, showing supposed confessions by men said to be al-Hashemi’s bodyguards. The men said that they killed officials working in Iraq’s health and foreign ministries, and Baghdad police officers, receiving $3,000 from al-Hashemi for each attack.
Al-Hashemi has taken refuge from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish government in Northern Iraq. He has refused to return to Baghdad where he does not feel safe and has expressed concerns about no receiving a fair trial. There is a belief amongst al-Hashemi and other Sunni officials that the judiciary is not independent of al-Malaki’s government.
“We are an independent body that is not linked to any executive body,” Saad al-Lami, one of the nine judges, said after the findings were announced. He said al-Maliki’s office has “nothing to do with these investigations.”
The Judiciary Council’s findings will be turned over to the Iraqi criminal courts. This will allow the relatives of those killed to file lawsuits against al-Hashemi.
The political divisiveness of this case has tapped into underlying resentments between the Sunni and Shi’ites in the Iraqi government. The minority Sunnis fear they are being politically sidelined by the Shi’ite majority as payback for the years of persecution under Saddam Hussein, who had favored the Sunnis.
Likewise the Shi’ites fear connections between the Sunnis and the near daily attacks by al-Qaeda and other insurgents.
Some Iraqis greet the judiciary’s findings with weariness and skepticism after years of endless government infighting.
“This is political immaturity when the government officials are ignoring the devastated country and people and direct all of their attention to settle old scores with political opponents,” said Hassan Hamid, a Shi’ite trader from eastern Baghdad.
For more information, please see:
Al Arabiya — Iraqi VP Hashimi denies any involvement in 150 terrorist operations — 17 Feb. 2012
ABC — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012
AP — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012
BBC — Iraqi’s Sunni Vice-President Hashemi ‘ran death squads’ — 16 Feb. 2012