Qatar Rejects Iraq's Request To Hand Over Fugitive VP

Qatar on Tuesday rejected Iraq's request to arrest and hand over fugitive Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi to stand trial on terror charges, indicating that such a move would violate diplomatic norms as Hashemi is in the country in his official capacity.

The Iraqi government accuses Hashemi of running death squads that targeted Shiite pilgrims as well as government and security officials from 2005 to 2011. The Iraqi government also claims that three suspects, identified as Hashemi's bodyguards, have linked the Vice-President to killings and attacks on several Iraqi government and security officials.

Nevertheless, Qatar's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Attiyah stated at a press conference held Tuesday that Hashemi could not be extradited to Iraq as requested by Baghdad because there was no court judgment against him. The minister also noted that Hashemi still holds the post of vice-president.

Hashemi had arrived in Qatar on Sunday from Iraq's northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Qatari officials had earlier described Hashemi's trip as an "official visit." Hashemi has since held talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, with the two leaders discussing bilateral relations as well as the latest developments in the region.

The latest development come a day after Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussain Shahristani slammed Qatar for the hosting fugitive vice-president and urged Doha to send him back to Iraq as soon as possible to stand trial on terror charges. He stressed that Qatar's move was an "unacceptable act."

Shahristani also criticized the Kurdistan Regional Government for allowing Hashemi to leave the country despite a standing arrest warrant, and noted that Kurdistan had committed a "clear challenge to law and justice" by its action.

Hashemi had sought refuge in the northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, , which has its own government and security forces, soon after the Iraqi government issued a warrant for his arrest on terrorism charges on December 19.

Despite repeated requests by the Iraqi government to hand him over, the Kurdistan government had refused to comply. Further, Hashemi has refused to stand trial in Baghdad and rejected the charges against him as politically motivated.

Hashemi is a senior leader of the the secular but Sunni-dominated Iraqiya party headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The Iraqiya party and its Sunni allies claim the charges against Hashemi are politically motivated and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite politician, of monopolizing power by retaining key posts in the coalition government for his Shiite bloc.

The warrant for Hashemi had evoked fears that it may trigger fresh sectarian violence in the divided country after the recent withdrawal of American forces. Analysts also fear that it might derail the country's delicate power-sharing agreement.

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