Tareq al-Hashimi denies charges made by Baghdad that he ran death squads targeting Shia pilgrims [Reuters]
Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi has arrived in Qatar on what the Gulf nation’s state news agency called an “official visit”.
The unexpected visit on Sunday marks Hashimi’s first foreign trip since he fled to Iraq’s semi autonomous Kurdish region to avoid an arrest warrant issued in December.
Hashimi is one of Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni officials and is accused of running death squads against Shia pilgrims.
Hashimi has denied the allegations. He publicly denounced the government charges as “politically motivated”, accusing authorities of coercing his bodyguards to make false confessions against him.
Iraq’s interior ministry last month demanded that Kurdish leaders arrest Hashimi before he could flee the country.
The semi-autonomous Kurdish region has its own security forces, which means Hashimi is effectively out of reach from police controlled by the central government in Baghdad.
Hashimi will stay in the Qatari capital Doha for several days, the Qatar News Agency said.
“Vice President of the Republic of Iraq Tariq al-Hashimi arrived here on Sunday on a several-day official visit to Qatar. He was welcomed upon arrival at Doha International Airport by HE Minister of State Sheikh Hamad bin Nasser bin Jassim Al Thani,” said the Qatar News Agency.
Hashimi’s office said he plans to meet with Qatar’s emir and the prime minister during the visit.
“Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi left on Sunday morning heading to Doha in the brotherly state of Qatar in accordance with an invitation he received previously,” the statement said.
He plans to visit additional, unnamed countries during the trip before returning to Iraq’s Kurdish region, his office said.
While Iraq’s political crisis has abated somewhat in recent weeks, Hashimi has remained in the Kurdish region, saying he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad.
Kurish officials have said they will not turn Hashimi over to Baghdad for trial, because the case has political implications that need to be resolved first.
“This is a legal violation, the airport authority in Arbil should face legal consequences since he [Hashimi] is forbidden from travelling,” Ali al-Moussawi, a media advisor to Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, told Reuters.
“The Iraqi law is one and it applies to all, including Kurdistan.”
Earlier on Sunday, Maliki told a press conference that any member state of the Arab League should not receive Hashimi, but said it was up to international authorities to ask a nation hosting the vice president to hand him over.
The Arab League summit was held in Iraq for the first time in 20 years last week.