The deaths of at least 107 Iraqis in seemingly coordinated attacks eclipsed the expected but still shocking news that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has been sentenced to death by a Baghdad criminal court. Another 484 Iraqis were wounded in the violence, which occurred even deep into southern Iraq where such bloodshed is rare. One attack took place at a French consulate in Nasiriyah.
Although some of the attacks occurred earlier than the sentencing announcement, it cannot be ruled out that several of the later attacks were in response to it. Surges in violence have accompanied significant points in the Hashemi trial, and the evening attacks targeted Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad. Hashemi is Sunni.
The fugitive vice president was sentenced to death in what many believe was a rigged court decision. He has denied all allegations and insisted the trial was part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s intensified campaign to marginalize Sunnis. The case was tried in absentia after Hashemi fled Iraq, first to Kurdistan and later to Turkey. Both governments refused to hand Hashemi over.
Hashemi was first accused of financing terrorist activities in December, curiously, just as U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. The first case, a bombing at the parliament building, turned out to be an al-Qaeda operation instead, but the Maliki administration found another 150 cases to blame on Hashemi.
On Sunday, he and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, were found guilty for their involvement in the murders of a lawyer and security official. Over a lack of evidence, a judge acquitted Hashemi on a third murder charge. Defense lawyers re-iterated their belief that Maliki had manipulated court proceedings against his political rival and were promptly threatened by the court. If Hashemi returns to Iraq, he is legally allowed a re-trial. Unintentionally supporting Hashemi’s counter-allegations, Maliki had tried to oust other senior Sunni politicians and ignited a political crisis that is yet unresolved. Moreover, at least three of Hashemi’s employees diedwhile in detention, possibly tortured to death during interrogations. Hashemi has frequently accused the Iraqi government of extricating all confessions in the case through torture.
Meanwhile, violence took a heavy toll today.
At least 107 people were killed and 484 more were wounded across the country, even in relatively peaceful southern cities.