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'Guiding and financing terrorist attacks': Interpol issues alert for Iraq's vice president

Bulent Kilic / AFP - Getty Images

Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi (center) arrives for a press conference on May 4 in Istanbul, Turkey.

BAGHDAD -- Interpol called for the arrest of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi at the request of Iraqi authorities on Tuesday on suspicion of planning attacks, a move likely to complicate attempts to defuse Iraq's political crisis.

Al-Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim politician with the Iraqiya bloc, fled Baghdad in December when the Shiite-led government accused him of running death squads, a dispute that risked upsetting a delicate power-sharing agreement.

The vice president, who is in the Turkish city of Istanbul, has denied he was involved in murdering six judges and other officials. He says the charges are politically motivated and has refused to stand trial in Baghdad.

"My defense lawyer will present an appeal to Interpol in the next few days," al-Hashemi said in a statement. "I won't submit to pressure and blackmail."

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According to the BBC, Iraqi authorities allege al-Hashemi is linked to about 150 killings.

The case strained Iraq's fragile coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs and generated fears of a return to the broad sectarian violence that wracked the country during the darker days of the war in 2006-2007.

"This is an escalation ... while some Iraqi political blocs are trying to meet to solve problems, those which head the government are creating problems," said Ahmed al-Massari, a senior Iraqiya lawmaker.

Iraqiya complains it is being shut out of power, and briefly boycotted the government earlier this year after an arrest warrant was issued against al-Hashemi. Iraqiya and al-Hashemi cite the charges an example of Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's flexing his authority for political gain.

The al-Hashemi case is being closely monitored by Iraq's neighbors concerned about the turmoil spinning into more Sunni versus Shiite violence, just months after the last American troops left the country in December.

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The Red Notice issued by the international police organization calls on security forces in its 190 member countries to help locate al-Hashemi and bring him to justice.

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"At the request of Iraqi authorities, Interpol has published a Red Notice for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on suspicion of guiding and financing terrorist attacks in the country," Interpol said in a statement.

While Red Notices are not international arrest warrants, some of Interpol's member countries treat them as such.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference that he believed al-Hashemi would return to Iraq after medical treatment.

"Al-Hashemi continues with his initiatives regarding his legal problems," Erdogan said. "We gave him all kinds support on this issue and we will continue to do so."

'Serious charges'
Interpol said the notice would restrict al-Hashemi's ability to travel and cross borders.

"This case also clearly demonstrates the commitment of Iraqi authorities to work with the world police community via Interpol to apprehend individuals facing serious charges,"Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said in a statement.

Al-Hashemi's trial was postponed a week ago after his lawyers argued that it should be held in a special court for political figures. It is scheduled to resume on Thursday.

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The trial focuses on the assassination of three government officials. Al-Hashemi and his bodyguards are also charged with the murders of six judges.

Since December when al-Maliki's government accused al-Hashemi and sought the ouster of another leading Sunni politician, many Iraqi Sunnis say they fear he is trying to sideline them to consolidate his power.

The political crisis has been complicated since last month when the autonomous Kurdistan region halted oil exports and hinted it could break away from Baghdad in a long-running dispute over oil and land rights.

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Four senior Iraqi political figures have threatened al-Maliki with a vote of no confidence unless he stops engaging in what they called "autocratic" decision-making at the expense of other partners in the power-sharing government.

But the Shiite, Sunni-backed and Kurdish blocs are still haggling over an agreement that will break their political impasse. Most blocs are sharply split over how to end the crisis and who might replace Maliki if his critics muster a vote against him.

Reuters, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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