Tariq al-Hashemi
Karim Kadim  /  AP
A panel in Baghdad concluded that Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 bombings and assassinations since 2005.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/20/2012 11:27:30 AM ET 2012-02-20T16:27:30

Iraq's embattled Sunni vice president on Monday slammed government charges that he ran death squads as politically motivated and called on "all honest Iraqi people" to rise up in his defense.

The half-hour speech by Tariq al-Hashemi followed a Sunday suicide car bombing that killed 19 police officers and cadets in an attack on a crowd outside a Baghdad police academy.

The attack broke a short period of relative calm that accompanied an easing in a political crisis pitting Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against senior members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc.

Sunni al-Hashemi on Monday vigorously defended himself against charges that he said were based on coerced statements. He also questioned why he was being singled out by the Shiite-led government, noting that many insurgents and militias are still free after killing thousands of people in the years Iraq teetered on the brink of civil war.

His comments starkly underscored the divisive sectarian tensions the case has injected into Baghdad's already turbulent political system.

The charges "are politically motivated," al-Hashemi said in the speech broadcast from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, where he has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish region. "The aim has become very clear: to tarnish the political picture by using lies, forgery and deceit."

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"I have no suspicious activities," he said. "This is the truth and anything other than that is false."

Two government spokesmen could not be reached for immediate comment.

Arrest warrant
Last week, a judicial panel in Baghdad concluded that al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 bombings and assassinations since 2005. The conclusions stemmed from a review of a December warrant for al-Hashemi's arrest accusing him of paying his bodyguards $3,000 to kill security forces and government officials.

The warrant was announced the day after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq, raising eyebrows among critics who called it a first sign of PM al-Maliki seizing power without fear of American interference. At the time, state TV broadcast television footage showing purported confessions by men said to be al-Hashemi's bodyguards.

On Monday, al-Hashemi said his bodyguards were tortured into giving the confessions, and still have been unable to see lawyers in the case. "We have pictures of bruises on their faces and bodies," al-Hashemi said.

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He lashed out at the judicial panel, which was appointed by Iraq's highest court to investigate the charges. The panel's results aren't legally binding but they have been passed along to a criminal court which could choose to charge al-Hashemi with even more crimes. The panel touted its findings as the first independent review of al-Hashemi's case, but critics and some experts said its judges were named by officials sympathetic to al-Maliki.

"Our judicial system is still working to satisfy some influential people," said al-Hashemi, who is al-Maliki's longtime political foe.

Suicide car bombing
The car bomb exploded as it careered into a crowd of cadets whom police had just escorted out of the compound and were standing in the street outside, police working at the academy said.

Police and hospital sources said 14 cadets and five police were killed, and 26 people were wounded. All except two of the wounded were police or cadets.

"I can see body parts scattered on the ground and boots and berets covered with blood. Many cars were set ablaze," said a policeman working at the academy on Palestine Street in northeastern Baghdad.

The attack is the deadliest since January 27, when a suicide bomber set off an explosive-laden vehicle near a Shiite funeral procession in Baghdad, killing at least 31 and wounding 60.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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