Sunni leader in Iraq denies ordering assassinations

The New York Times reports: 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.

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