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Hashemi surprised by timing of verdict | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London/Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi described the death sentence issued against him – in absentia – by the High Criminal Court of Baghdad on Sunday as “surprising”. He asserted that the court’s verdict “was surprising in terms of its timing, but not its content” adding “I always expected the issuance of a decision such as this.”

In his first interview to an Arab publication following the issuance of the death penalty against him, al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I said that its timing was surprising as I had just received confirmed information from high-level Iraqi political figures that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had decided to calm the situation and postpone the issuance of any decision, and this was part of his so-called process to conduct political reforms and reconcile with the other political blocs.”

He stressed that “I received these messages from a person who had recently personally met with al-Maliki himself.”

The Iraqi Vice President also asserted that “al-Maliki is moving towards further escalating and complicating the situation, and this is what prompted him to rush to pressure the court to issue its deaths sentence against me in order to explode the sectarian situation as part of an agenda that aims to close the door to any chances of political reform – which is something that he cannot and will not implement – forcing everybody down a dead end path.”

He said “the issuance of such a dangerous decision against a political figure like the vice president of Iraq at this particular time aims to distract public opinion and point it in a direction away from the Iraqi people’s dissatisfaction with al-Maliki’s political failures and his retreat from fulfilling his pledges, whether political, economic or regarding public services, not to mention the dangerous security retreat which is threatening innocent Iraqi lives every day.”

“Al-Maliki is steering the situation towards sectarian conflict, promoting the idea that my security detail and I were amongst the Sunnis who are killing the Shiites. This is a very dangerous accusation and a transgression of all facts merely in order to cover up his failures, particularly as al-Maliki has not made any achievements which he can promote at the forthcoming elections…for he has not provided anything to the Iraqi people or Iraq’s relations with the Arab and Islamic world.” Al-Hashemi added.

As for the accusations – made by an Iraqi security official – that groups affiliated to him were responsible for the series of explosions that struck Iraq on Sunday in response to the Baghdad court’s verdict against him, the Iraqi vice president told Asharq Al-Awsat “it is well known that such terrorist attacks require precise planning and preparation in advance and coordination with checkpoints that are under al-Maliki’s control as he is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, whilst the issuance of the death penalty against me was a surprise, as I said before, so how could I plan and order all these explosions, particularly when I am in Istanbul?”

Al-Hashemi also asked “what ‘groups’ are they talking about? They have accused my security detail and office staff, however most of them are in detention, whilst the rest have fled the country or disappeared; such explosions cannot be arranged overnight.”

Al-Hashemi accused “some security apparatus affiliated to the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of being behind these explosions, particularly as they were pre-planned and coincided with the issuance of the death penalty against me” adding “al-Maliki was well aware of the precise timing of this verdict.” As for why the Iraqi Prime Minister would order such attacks, al-Hashemi said “in order to accuse me and say that groups affiliated to me are behind them.”

Regarding the legality of the ruling against him, al-Hashemi stressed that “the president of the court who was looking into this issue withdrew from the trial because he was not convinced about the issuance of such a decision in absentia…however the court and judiciary are now in al-Maliki’s hands; he wants Iraq to become a state of chaos.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat “I call on the presidency, as the guardian of the constitution, and the Council of Representatives, as the representatives of the Iraqi people, to stand against such actions, for today the prime minister found it easy to transgress against myself and the constitution, whilst tomorrow he will transgress against more senior figures and with regards to more serious issues!”

Al-Hashemi confirmed that he remains Iraqi Vice President, stressing “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis voted for me during the elections, nominating me for parliament and the post of vice president. I was not appointed by any figure, and only the Council of Representatives can remove me from my position.”

The Iraqi Vice President also lauded the position taken by “brother Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, and the leadership of the Iraqiya bloc and all noble Iraqis who stood and are standing with me.”

For his part, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed his regret at the decision issued against al-Hashemi. In a statement released by the office of the president, Talabani said that “it was regrettable that the judicial decision against him was issued at this particular time.” The statement added “he is still officially in office, which could become an unhelpful factor that…may complicate efforts to achieve national reconciliation.”

The Iraqi government had called on al-Hashemi to return to the country and appear before the court in order to prove his innocence. Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the sentence issued against al-Hashemi still needs to be finalized in terms of judicial procedure which will certainly take some time.”

As for whether Baghdad is going to call on Ankara to hand over al-Hashemi, al-Dabbagh said “the government is an executive body and it will do whatever the judiciary decides in terms of an extradition request.” He added “there remains an opportunity for the defendant Tariq al-Hashemi to legally defend himself, particularly as the court issued its verdict based on the evidence before it.”

Commenting on al-Hashemi’s previous statement, in which the vice president said he would be prepared to appear before a “fair” and unpoliticized court, Iraqi government spokesperson said “the fairness of a court is not decided by the defendant, but by the nature of decisions that it takes during the investigation” adding “the place is not important, particularly as the judicial committee [that tried al-Hashemi in absentia] was formed from 9 judges, 4 of whom are from Kirkuk, which is where al-Hashemi wanted the trial to take place.”