|Hashemi has denied the allegation that he ordered attacks on Shia Muslim pilgrims, calling it a smear campaign [EPA]
An Iraqi judicial panel says that Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's Sunni vice-president, and his employees ran death squads that for years carried out deadly attacks on security officials and Shia Muslim pilgrims.
The nine-judge committee's findings, which are not legally binding, offered on Thursday the first independent assessment of a case that has touched off a political crisis along sectarian lines and brought the Iraqi government's work practically to a halt.
Hashemi has denied the allegations, and accuses Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, of co-ordinating a smear campaign as part of a power grab.
Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council, said the investigating panel found at least 150 cases where either Hashemi, his bodyguards or other employees were linked to attacks ranging from roadside bombs to assassinations against security officials and Shia pilgrims.
Bayrkdar, who did not offer any evidence to back up the panel's conclusions, said the death squads operated from 2005 to 2011.
He said they were behind a bombing last December on the government's Integrity Commission headquarters that killed 25 people and the assassination of a deputy education minister in 2010.
No immediate comment
There was no immediate comment from Hashemi or his Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.
The investigation was ordered by Madhat al-Mahmoud, Chief Judge of the Supreme Judicial Council, after Maliki's Shia-dominated government issued a warrant in December for Hashemi's arrest.
The investigating committee was created by the Supreme Judicial Council specifically to examine the charges against Hashemi.
"We are an independent body that is not linked to any executive body," Saad al-Lami, one of the nine judges, said after the findings were announced.
He said Maliki's office has "nothing to do with these investigations".
Hashemi was one of hundreds of Sunnis who were charged with crimes in what Sunnis called an attempt Maliki and his supporters to target political enemies.
He is currently in Iraq's northern Kurdish region, where he has sought refuge.
In December, he accused Maliki of ordering the warrant on "fabricated" charges as a campaign to "embarrass" him.