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Iraq's Fugitive Vice-President On Surprise Visit To Turkey

Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi arrived in Istanbul on Monday on a surprise visit to the Turkish city, the State-run Anatolia news agency reported without giving any detail about his mission in the country.

Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, flew to Turkey by a private jet from the Qatari capital Doha. He was in Saudi Arabia before visiting Qatar for four days last week.

Hashemi is wanted in Iraq on terror charges for allegedly running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces. Iraqi authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December, touching off a political crisis in Baghdad and deepening the country's sectarian divide just days after the U.S. military pullout from the war-torn country.

Hashemi, who denied the "politically-motivated charges," fled Baghdad to take refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

He told the Al-Jazeera TV channel last week that the charges were designed to push him out of the political process and launched a scathing attack on Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the development. "I will return to Kurdistan without a doubt. I will never abandon my country," Hashemi said, adding that he would be ready to leave Kurdistan if he felt his presence there was a burden to its government.

Hashemi is visiting Turkey for the first time since the allegations were raised against him.

by RTT Staff Writer

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