Thursday, 5 April 2012

Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi in Saudi Arabia

After a four day visit, Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has left Qatar. The official's, allegedly unauthorised, trip to the fellow Arab country has sparked conflict with the rest of Iraqi government.

Al-Hashemi is the most senior Sunni minister in the government. He absconded to the sovereign Kurdish region of Iraq after being accused of partaking in terrorism last year. He then later fled to Qatar.

Earlier this week, Iraq demanded that Qatar hand-over al-Hashemi but it refused, saying such a step would go against diplomatic conventions. Speaking about the issue, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said Qatar harbouring a wanted person was an "unacceptable act" and that it should "return him to Iraq".

According to Reuters, al-Hashemi is now in Saudi Arabia, where he is to undergo a pilgrimage. The official told al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, during his time in Qatar, that he planned to visit Saudi Arabia on his trip of "friendly states".

Like Qatar, Saudi Arabia has a Sunni government; both countries have expressed concern about Iraq's largely Shi'a government. On Monday 2 April, Baghdad asked for Hashemi to be extradited, but Qatar refused, saying there was no court judgement to validate such a step.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Hashemi in December 2011 brought the country's national unity government close to ruin, and ignited fears that sectarian unrest would mount.

Iraq's government was due to hold reconciliation talks with Sunni and Kurdish counterparts on Thursday 5 April, but the meeting fell through as al-Maliki's opponents refused to attend the meeting. It is yet to be confirmed whether or not it will take place.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

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