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Iraq's Sunni VP blasts arrest warrant issued against him, calls charges 'fabricated'
BAGHDAD (AP) ' Iraq's Sunni vice president wanted by the Shiite-led government for allegedly ordering hit squads against government officials says he's innocent of any charges.
Tariq al-Hashemi told a press conference in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on Tuesday that he has not committed any "sin" against Iraq. He described the charges against him as "fabricated."
The announcement of the warrant against al-Hashemi has hiked tensions between Sunnis and Shiites just two days after the last U.S. soldiers withdrew from the country.
Iraqi officials on Monday accused al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that killed government officials.
Al-Hashemi is in Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and is not in custody.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) ' Two of Iraq's top political leaders voiced muted criticism of the Shiite-led government over an arrest warrant for the top Sunni political figure that has thrown the nation into a political crisis.
The announcement of the warrant against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has hiked tensions between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites just after the last U.S. soldiers withdrew from the country. Iraqi officials on Monday accused al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that killed government officials, and state-run television aired what it characterized as confessions by men said to be working as bodyguards for al-Hashemi.
Al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's two largely ceremonial vice presidents, is in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and is not in custody.
In a statement late Monday, President Jalal Talabani's office says the president was "surprised" at the announcement of the warrant and that the issue needed to be dealt with quietly. According to the statement, Talabani had been working behind the scenes over the last two days to come to a resolution over al-Hashemi.
"Making hasty decisions and announcing them in the media will complicate the political solutions needed in this delicate stage in Iraq's history," the statement said.
Talabani, a Kurd, has often tried to play a mediating role between Iraq's sectarian political factions.
Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi on Tuesday called the purported confessions of al-Hashemi's bodyguards a "clear tendency to spread suspicion and mistrust among us." He also said the bodyguards' remarks were intended to promote sectarianism.
Al-Nujaifi said that as Iraq is going through difficult times in its history "troublemakers and people of bad intention are working to spread divisions among us in order to turn one nation into disputing peoples seeking revenge."
Like al-Hashemi, the speaker is a prominent Sunni member of the Iraqiya bloc. Al-Nujaifi called for a fair investigation carried out by all the political blocs.
Neither politician spoke of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by name but the statements were clearly critical of the arrest warrant and the way al-Hashemi had been treated.
The arrest warrant, coming just one day after American troops left the country, demonstrated the deep suspicion and sectarian problems that American troops are leaving behind.
Many Shiites still equate Sunnis with the former dictator Saddam Hussein and his now-outlawed Baath Party and are deeply worried that they will try to regain power.