Iraq’s Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi left Iraq more than a month and a half ago, because of an arrest warrant and impending court date against him. He and his bodyguards have been accused of carrying out over one hundred attacks upon officials and members of the security forces. His stated reason for his departure was a tour of the region to consult with foreign dignitaries and leaders. Currently, he is in Turkey for medical treatment. The way it’s looking however, the vice president may be starting a self-imposed exile as he has quietly remarked that he may not return home until there is a political deal to resolve his case.
|Vice President Hashemi at a news conference in Turkey May 2012 (AFP)
Officially, Vice President Tariq Hashemi is in Turkey for health reasons. He is undergoing tests and treatment there. Unofficially, he has stated several times that he may not go back to Iraq, because of the arrest warrant against him. In May 2012 for example, he gave an interview with a Turkish TV station saying that he would not leave the country until the political dispute between his Iraqi National Movement (INM) and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was resolved. Previously, he said that he would stay in Turkey until a political deal was worked out over his case. Back in April, he told Al Jazeera that he would not be returning to Kurdistan after he embarked on his regional tour. Turkey is also willing to extend him protection, while he resides there, as Interpol issued a wanted notice for him after he left Iraq. While his hospital stay provides him with an excuse to be in Turkey, its apparent that he has every intention of extending his trip abroad. That’s shown by the fact that he has been gone for over a month and a half.
Hashemi has been out of the country since the beginning of April. Back in February, he first talked about leaving Iraq. On April 1, he departed on a regional tour starting with Qatar. This was an obvious violation of the arrest warrant against him, which he had already been ignoring by leaving Baghdad for Kurdistan. On April 4, he arrived in Saudi Arabia, and eventually landed in Turkey where he remains today. A spokesman for the Vice President told the press that he was travelling around the region, and then returning to Iraq to give it official cover. The trip was likely just an excuse to leave Iraq where he was coming under increasing political pressure from both the justice system, and his benefactors the Kurds.
Before leaving the country, Hashemi was staying in Kurdistan to avoid his arrest warrant. He left Baghdad for Sulaymaniya province on December 18, 2011, the day after his warrant was issued. The Vice President said he would stay there until he became an “embarrassment,” and that’s exactly what might have happened. Starting in February, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Aref Tayfour from the Kurdish Coalition let it be known that Hashemi should stop hiding in Kurdistan, and stand trial. He said that if Hashemi was innocent as he claimed, there was no reason for him to fear going to court. In March, President Jalal Talabani called the Hashemi case an eye sore for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and that it should not be harboring him in a newspaper interview. That same month, outgoing KRG Premier Barham Saleh stated that the KRG should not get more involved with Hashemi, because it could blowback on it later, by souring relations with the central government, something that President Talabani also warned about. Hashemi was only staying in Kurdistan at the behest of local politicians there who said they would not turn him over to Baghdad. When more and more of them started talking negatively about him, that was a sign that he should think about leaving, which likely prompted his regional tour.
|Iraqi paper announcing Hashemi's arrest warrant in Dec. 2011 (Press TV)
Hashemi’s legal troubles started at the end of 2011. In November, the Interior Ministry aired the confessions of several of his bodyguards on state-run TV that included carrying out attacks at the behest of the Vice President. Hashemi claimed his guards had been tortured, and the accusations against him were faked as a result. On December 17, the Baghdad Operations Command announced an arrest warrant for Hashemi, and he left the capital the next day for northern Iraq as a result. In February 2012, a nine judge panel said that Hashemi and his bodyguards were involved in at least 150 incidents from 2005-2011 that involved attacks and murders of lawyers, government officials, and members of the security forces. He was supposed to appear in court on May 3, but that was then pushed back to May 10, and then May 15. Those delays have occurred, because of constant appeals by his legal team. They have been putting up a steady fight over a number of issues, including claiming that the criminal court does not have jurisdiction over high officials, asking for a special tribunal appointed by parliament, requesting that his court be switched to one in Kurdistan or Kirkuk. Hashemi has also accused his judges of overseeing the torture of his guards, one of which died in custody under questionable circumstances, and claimed that the judiciary have been politicized, and are controlled by the premier. At the same time, there might be some veracity to the charges against him. In January, five Kurdish judges travelled to Baghdad to look into his case, and sources claimed that they came away thinking that there was some merit to them. The next month, Hashemi gave an interview where he said that he didn’t know all that his security did, and could not guarantee their innocence. There was also an allegation that he offered to let his guards be prosecuted in return for him getting off. The Vice President has also been tied to violence in the past. The Iraqi paper Elaph reported that there have been charges against him going back three years. In February 2010, former parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi accused Hashemi of being involved in the death of his two sons, who were allegedly killed by Hashemi’s nephew. Finally, in January 2009 there was a story that one of his guards was involved in killing four people. There was an obvious political intent behind Hashemi’s arrest warrant. It came just as Prime Minister Maliki was moving against his opponents in the Iraqi National Movement. There were reports that the premier had been looking for evidence against the Vice President since as far back as the end of 2006. The judiciary has also proven to be open to Maliki’s influence. At the same time, Hashemi, his family, and staff have all been implicated in violence, so there might be teeth to the charges against him. Either way, Hashemi was in for a long time in court if he ever went.
Hashemi is likely to stay outside of Iraq as long as there is an arrest warrant for him. He overstayed his welcome in Kurdistan to escape it, and has since left the country altogether, and is currently in Turkey. That country is a supporter of Hashemi’s Iraqi National Movement (INM), so he can expect to find safe haven there until his case is resolved. Given the political nature of the affair, it’s highly unlikely that Hashemi would ever be convicted since Iraq’s political elites want to protect their privileges. If one were finally to be found guilty of anything, than all of them would be open to prosecution. If a deal were ever worked out between Maliki and the INM, Hashemi’s case would probably be included. Until then, the prime minister will use the courts to keep Hashemi out of office, thus diminishing his standing, and keeping him an exile as well.
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