Iraq VP goes on death squad trial in absentia

Tariq al-Hashemi, accused of several counts of murder, has dismissed charges as politically motivated.

Baghdad: Iraq`s fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and several of his bodyguards were to go on trial on Thursday accused of running a death squad, charges he has dismissed as politically motivated.

Hashemi, the country`s top Sunni official, will not attend the court in Baghdad, having left Iraq weeks ago.

The charges were levelled in December after US troops completed their pullout, sparking a political crisis that saw Hashemi`s bloc boycott cabinet and Parliament over accusations Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was monopolising power.

Hashemi and some of his guards were on Monday charged with killing six judges, as judicial spokesman Abdelsattar Bayraqdar put the overall number of accusations against the group at about 150.

Bayraqdar, who said further charges could still be filed, did not provide a breakdown of the accusations, or how many Hashemi himself faces.

He said that around 13 of Hashemi`s guards had been released for lack of evidence, leaving some 73 others.

Today`s trial is to tackle the "assassination of the general director in the National Security Ministry, an officer in the Interior Ministry and a lawyer," according to Bayraqdar.

After the charges against Hashemi were filed, the Vice President, who says they are politically-motivated, fled to the autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq, whose authorities declined to hand him over to the central government.

They then allowed him to leave on a tour of the region that has taken Hashemi to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey.