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Interpol issues warrant for Iraqi VP

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Organisation issues 'Red Notice' alert for Tariq al-HashemiInterpol has issued an international 'Red Notice' alert for Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on suspicion of "guiding and financing terrorist attacks".

Hashemi, who is being tried in absentia in Baghdad after being accused of running a death squad, insisted in a statement on Tuesday that he was not above the law and was ready to appear in court if his security, and a fair trial, could be guaranteed.

"The Red Notice for al-Hashemi represents a regional and international alert to all of Interpol's 190 member countries to seek their help in locating and arresting him," the Lyon-based international police agency said.

Interpol said the notice, its highest possible alert, was issued following an Iraqi warrant made "as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals".

Hashemi - last known to be in Istanbul, after receiving medical treatment for respiratory complications in the Turkish capital, Ankara  - along with his bodyguards faces about 150 charges, including the alleged killing of six judges and other senior officials, according to an Iraqi judicial spokesman.

He has challenged the legitimacy of the trial and said his life is at risk in Baghdad.

The decision to charge the key Sunni Arab leader sparked a political crisis that saw the vice president's bloc boycott cabinet and parliament over accusations Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shia prime minister, was monopolising power.

Hashemi said in a statement posted on his website early on Tuesday that he was awaiting a "political solution" to the standoff.

"I respect the [Iraqi] judiciary and I am not above the law," he said.

"If a fair trial is possible, not politicised, and there are security guarantees and guarantees of my constitutional rights, I will stand before any court, even if it is in Baghdad because I am sure of my innocence."

Ghassan al-Attiya, a Baghdad-based analyst said the accusations lodged against the vice president are indeed political in nature.

Attiya says in the period between February 2006 and May 2008, all of the local "militias were attacking each other. I would not presume any of them to be innocent".

Attiya says Iraqi government claims that evidence against Hashemi dates back three years raises further questions, "why  didn't they raise the issue before ... probably there is a political motive" to the charges.

Saad al-Mutalabi, senior adviser to prime minister Maliki, said accusations that the prime minister is furthering ethnic and sectarian divides in the country "is just political talk".

Mutalabi, in a phone interview with Al Jazeera says it is politicians, not lawyers lodging the complaints against the prime minister.

As proof against charges that the prime minister is stoking sectarian rifts within the nation, Mutalabi points to Maliki's trip to the province of Kirkuk, where he is holding a cabinet meeting in support of Arab Sunnis in the northern province.

Travel restricted

Hashemi said he was planning to return to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on Tuesday but decided to delay his trip after appeals by unnamed political leaders.

Attiya says if Hasemi does indeed to face trial in Iraq he would be taking a major step towards turning the political tables in Iraq.

Hasemi "will really be a hero of the people and expose the polticisation of the government", if he stands trial said Attiya.

Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said in a statement that the Red Notice would "significantly restrict" Hashemi's ability to travel and cross international borders.

"This case also clearly demonstrates the commitment of Iraqi authorities to work with the world police community via Interpol to apprehend individuals facing serious charges," he said.

A Red Notice is not an internationally binding arrest warrant but many of Interpol's members consider it a valid request, especially if they have an extradition treaty with the requesting country.

Selcuk Unal, a Turkish government spokesperson said that the Red Notice is "just disseminating information about a person" and that Hashemi, still considered Iraq's current vice president, will return to Iraq after receiving medical treatment in Istanbul.

Unal, speaking from the Turkish capital, Ankara, said Turkey "will look into the matter" but has not yet made any decisions regarding extradition.

Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Hashemi in December after the US completed its pullout and he first sought refuge with Iraqi Kurds who refused to hand him over. He then fled to Turkey, after stops in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

"My life in Baghdad [is] in high risk," he told journalists on Friday in Istanbul, where he has been based for more than a month.

Hashemi has challenged the legitimacy of the trial in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, claiming the federal court should have handled the case because he is a sitting vice president.

His trial began on Thursday, but was adjourned until May 10.

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