Iraq Issues Arrest Warrant for Sunni Vice President

Iraq Issues Arrest Warrant for Sunni Vice President
Iraq's Shiite-led government has issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president, accusing him of running a hit squad that assassinated government and security officials.

The vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, left Baghdad on Sunday for the semi-autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, presumably hoping that Kurdish authorities would not turn him in. Investigative judges banned him the same day from traveling outside of Iraq.

The yesterday's warrant for the country's highest-ranking Sunni official marked a sharp escalation in sectarian tensions, raising fears of a resurgence of large-scale bloodshed. Although many Iraqis welcomed the last week's American withdrawal, ending the nine-year US war, there are also considerable fears here that violence will worsen.

"Iraq is slipping into its worst nightmares now, and Iraqi people will pay a high price because of the struggle among political blocs after the pullout of US troops," said Baghdad-based political analyst Kadhum al-Muqdadi, a Shiite.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration had expressed its concerns to all of the parties involved regarding the issuing of the warrant.

Sunnis suspected the charges against al-Hashemi were politically motivated. Al-Hashemi is an old rival of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the arrest order came two days after the main Sunni-backed political bloc, Iraqiya, suspended its participation in parliament because al-Maliki, a Shiite, refused to give up control over key posts.

State-run television aired what it characterized as confessions by men said to be working as bodyguards for al- Hashemi. The men said they killed officials working in Health and Foreign Ministries as well as Baghdad police officers, and that they received USD 3,000 from al-Hashemi for each attack.
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