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Rejecting death sentence, Iraqi VP Hashemi calls for Iraqis to resist (+video)

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(Read caption) Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi discusses the charges against him during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Monday.

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Fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi today rejected the death sentence meted against him yesterday by an Iraqi court, calling the verdict a political vendetta by the prime minister's office.

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Mr. Hashemi, who, along with his son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan, was sentenced to hang for allegedly organizing the murders of a lawyer and a Shiite security official, said the ruling was the result of a political campaign by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to eliminate his rivals and consolidate dictatorial power, reports the Associated Press.

“I totally reject and will never recognize” the verdict, Hashemi told reporters in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where he is currently living. “I consider the verdict a medal on my chest.”

“The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to love to my country and my loyalty to my people,” he added. “I reiterate that I’m innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under al-Maliki’s influence.”

Reuters reports that Hashemi also called upon his countrymen to resist Mr. Maliki.  "My people, don't give Maliki and those who stand behind him the chance. They want to make this a sectarian strife. Oppose his conspiracies and provocation calmly... People should not stay silent on the unprecedented oppression in Iraq."

The announcement of Hashemi's sentence coincided with the worst day of violence in Iraq since July, as scores of people were killed and hundreds injured in a series of bombings across the country, the worst taking place in the capital city of Baghdad.  AP notes that "It's unlikely that the attacks in 13 cities were all timed to coincide with the afternoon verdict," but "taken together, the violence and verdict could energize Sunni insurgents bent on returning Iraq to the brink of civil war by targeting Shiites and undermining the government."

Hashemi was a long-standing critic of the Maliki administration even before murder charges were laid against him in December, within a week of the US military's departure from Iraq. In an extensive interview with the Monitor's Dan Murphy published yesterday, Hashemi warned that Maliki's government is a worse human rights offender than Saddam Hussein's.

"I think our situation in terms of human rights, is getting much worse than it used to be during Saddam Hussein’s regime," says Hashemi. "The Maliki government took innocent people and after 24 to 48 hours bodies were delivered to their families. 'These were not the man we were looking for and we’re sorry about your son,' is all they said."

Mr. Murphy notes that Hashemi has called on the US to intervene and rein in Maliki's government, leaving Hashemi "in the strange-bedfellow's position of urging greater US involvement in Iraq's affairs after having been for years a loud and frequent critic of the US military occupation of the country."

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"The American people should understand that the mission was not fulfilled, regardless of the high cost that was paid by American lives... therefore according to the framework agreement, the US should continue its mission in Iraq until there’s a real state, real institutions, and a real democracy," Hashemi said.

"Maliki is now monopolizing the ministry of the interior, of defense, of national security, of intelligence. He’s using nationalistic rhetoric but at the same time behaving in a very sectarian manner. If we are talking about democracy then how come all that happens in Iraq is considered a democracy? All under the control of one man and one party," he added.

CNN notes that the verdict is apt to further sour Iraq's relationship with Turkey, where Hashemi has been given sanctuary.  After Hashemi's sentence was announced, the Turkish foreign ministry said that he was welcome to stay in the country as long as he wished.  Ankara and Baghdad are already at odds over Syria and over the Kurdish separatist group PKK, which has launched attacks into Turkey from Iraq.

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