Fugitive Iraqi vice president in Saudi Arabia
(CNN) — Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, wanted by Iraqi authorities on terrorism charges, was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, holding talks with the kingdom’s foreign minister, a Saudi government spokesman said.
“He came to Saudi Arabia and met with Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, the foreign minister,” Usama al-Nugali, a spokesman for the ministry, told CNN. “He is, after all, the vice president of Iraq.”
Al-Nugali would provide no details of the meeting, which came despite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s request that neighboring states snub the wanted dignitary.
Al-Hashimi has been living in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region since Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for him on terrorism charges. Al-Hashimi has denied the charges and called them “politically motivated.”
His visit to Saudi Arabia follows a Sunday stop in Qatar, where he met with the country’s emir and prime minister. Al-Hashimi’s office said that he was in Qatar “based on an invitation he had received earlier” and that he would be making other stops in the region before returning to Kurdistan.
Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders have squared off over the December arrest warrant for al-Hashimi, Iraq’s top Sunni political figure. In an interview with CNN in January, al-Hashimi accused al-Maliki — a Shiite — of pushing the country toward a deep sectarian divide.
Al-Maliki has demanded that Kurdish lawmakers hand over al-Hashimi, who refuses to return to Baghdad.
The charges against al-Hashimi appear to be based on the purported confessions of three men, identified as the vice president’s security guards. Iraqi state television aired video of the confessions in December, but CNN has not been able to verify the men’s identities independently.
In February, Iraq’s top judicial committee accused al-Hashimi’s security detail of carrying out 150 attacks against security forces and civilians between 2005 and 2011. Al-Hashimi said the nine-judge council was under the control of the Shiite-dominated central government.