Iraq's vice president, accused of running a Sunni death squad with his bodyguards between 2005 and 2011, has said the case against him is "political" and that confessions from witnesses have been extracted "under severe torture".
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Tariq al-Hashemi, the highest Sunni official in Iraq, also criticised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, for "monopolising the management of the security file" and persecuting opponents.
"There is no crime. There's a political case and all these confessions, in fact, have been extracted under severe torturing and one of my guards has been killed," Hashemi told Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.
"There's no judicial system; it's already lost its neutrality and independence and becoming just an instrument in the hands of the prime minister Mr Nouri al-Maliki ... who has a committee very close to the circle surrounding him."
Hashemi, who is being tried in absentia and has been living in Turkey, is linked to 150 killings, including those of top Shia officials and six judges.
His comments came a day after an Iraqi appeals court refused to allow President Jalal Talabani to testify in the case against him.
The case has deepened the rift between the country's largely sectarian-based political factions.
In Tuesday's session, the court heard more testimony from five police officers who told the court they found pistol silencers during two separate raids on the homes of Hashemi and Ahmed Qahtan, his son-in-law and office manager.
The court also heard from a woman and her son who are Qahtan's neighbours who said they saw policemen taking silencers from the house.
Another witness, one of more than 70 of Hashemi's guards now in detention, told the government how he used to drive other guards to plant roadside bombs.
Hashemi did not name people who sit on the security committee but insisted he had been targeted for his "opposition" to Maliki’s leadership style.
"This committee, in fact, is fabricating files against active politicians in Iraq like myself … I have been known and seen as the most active advocate of national security ... human rights, stability and non-interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries," he said.
"I have all the time been seen as an opposition to al-Maliki. This is why he is fabricating this case and presenting [it] to the judicial system. It’s totally been fabricated."
Hashemi said the "vendetta" was due to the Sunni-Shia conflict, but emphasised that the conflict was only partly to blame.
"I say partially because I belong to Iraqiyya and Iraqiyya is a non-sectarian political entity. And, as you're fully aware, the leader of Iraqiyya is a Shia. Iyadi Allawi is not a Sunni," said Hashemi.
But he said "more than 90 per cent of the thousands of innocent people behind bars" belonged to the Sunni community, adding that "the Sunnis are in real tragedy as far as Iraq is concerned".
The Iraqi government is made up of a coalition of political blocs, including two major ones: Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and Iyad Allawi's secular, but largely Sunni, Iraqiyya.
Hashemi said the ongoing violence in Iraq, including Monday’s attack that killed 115 people across the country, could be attributed to the current political situation.
"Whether we like it or not the ongoing violence is just a reflection of the fragile political situation of Iraq," he said.
"There's no doubt about it. There’s no stability. If the politicians are not thinking in one line; they don't have a unified vision to run the country, this means we’re leaving loopholes in our political system for terrorists to penetrate and to target innocent people."
Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies