Dec 20, 2011 Comments Off Pat Dollard
BAGHDAD — The political crisis in Iraq deepened on Tuesday, as the Sunni vice president angrily rebutted charges that he had ordered his security guards to assassinate government officials, saying that Shiite-backed security forces had induced the guards into false confessions.
In a nationally televised news conference, the vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, blamed the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for using the country’s security forces to persecute political opponents, specifically Sunnis.
“The accusations have not been proven, so the accused is innocent until proven guilty,” Mr. Hashimi said at the news conference in Erbil, in the Kurdish north of Iraq. “I swear by God I didn’t do this disobedience against Iraqi blood, and I would never do this.”
He added: “The goal is clear, it is not more than political slander.”
Standing in front of an Iraqi flag, Mr. Hashimi questioned why Mr. Maliki had waited until the day after the American military withdrew its troops from Iraq to publicly lay out the charges.
Almost as significant as what Mr. Hashimi said was where he said it: in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan. Because of the region’s autonomy, Mr. Maliki’s security forces cannot easily act on a warrant issued Monday to arrest Mr. Hashimi.
Mr. Hashimi said he would not return to Baghdad, effectively making him an internal exile. The case against him should be transferred to Kurdistan where he could face a fair trial, he said.
The response from Mr. Hashimi came a day after the Shiite-led government ordered him arrested and played videotaped confessions on national television from three men who said they had worked as his bodyguards and had been ordered by him to commit murders. The men claimed to have used roadside bombs and silencer-equipped pistols to kill Iraqi government officials and security officers. Mr. Hashimi, they said, rewarded them with money.
Shortly before the news conference on Tuesday, the speaker of the Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, one of the most respected Sunni leaders in Iraq, issued a statement saying that the playing of the videotapes had a “sectarian” tone that tried to exploit the historic divide between Sunnis and Shiites.
Mr. Nujaifi’s statements were striking because he has said little publicly about the growing crisis, and in recent years has cast himself as a nationalist, developing close relationships with Mr. Maliki and other Shiite leaders.
Since the accusations surfaced over the weekend, there has been no noticeable increase in violence. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the political tension would galvanize Sunnis and insurgents against the government or would be a political drama that plays itself out in televised news conferences.
Mr. Hashimi, a close ally of the United States, criticized President Obama, who ordered American troops in October to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
“I’m surprised by the statement of President Obama when he said that the United States had left a democratic Iraq,” he said.
“Is that the reality of Iraq? I’m sad. Either the American president is deceived or he is overlooking the facts existing here. Today my house is surrounded with tanks. I’d ask him, what democracy are you talking about President Obama?”
As Mr. Hashimi’s news conference was broadcast on several Iraqi television channels, the state-run channel replayed the confessions from his guards at least twice.
In the confessions, one of the men said that Mr. Hashimi asked him whether he would carry out attacks on his behalf. After saying he would, the man said he received orders from one of Mr. Hashimi’s deputies.
Among the attacks the man said he committed was planting a bomb in a busy traffic circle and assassinating an official from the Foreign Ministry with a silencer pistol.
“The vice president called us, and he thanked us,” said the man, Abdul Karim Mohammed al-Jabouri. “He gave us an envelope with money, and I thanked him.”