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The Sunni in Iraq's Shiite leadership

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"What you have in Iraq now are mutual fears. Whenever we sit at the negotiating table, the Shiite is afraid of the Sunni, and the Sunni fears the Shiite, and the Kurd fears the Turkmen, and so on," adds Hashemi, who spoke with the Monitor at his office inside the tightly secured International Zone (formerly the Green Zone).

Behind his desk hang framed verses of the Koran, rendered in calligraphy. On another wall is a photo-mosaic of him, composed of miniature photos of Sunni Arab victims of sectarian killing.

Talk to former Army officers

Hashemi warns that it will be a serious blow to any hopes for reconciliation if the government carries out the death sentence, handed down by a special tribunal and upheld by an appeals court in September, against Sultan Hashem, the former defense minister during Saddam Hussein's regime, and former Army chief Hussein Rashid Muhammad, as well as Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid.

They were convicted of genocide for their roles in a 1988 campaign against Iraq's Kurds, in which tens of thousands of people were killed. Hashemi says Mr. Hashem and Mr. Muhammad, both Sunnis, were merely military officers carrying out the orders of the political leadership. "This will ruin the Iraqi military establishment forever because this is an invitation to all military officers to question in the future the orders of politicians," he argues.

"A dialogue is taking place with former Army officers in Jordan and Syria to return," he continues. "His [Hashem's] execution is a message to them not to come back and that's it – we burn all bridges."

On Monday, the US military refused to hand over the three men to the Maliki government for hanging until, it said, authorities resolved their legal and procedural differences.

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