Iraq’s fugitive vice president
Istanbul (CNN) — Interpol has issued a “red notice” for Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who is suspected of guiding and financing terrorist attacks in the country, the international police organization announced Tuesday.
The red notice for al-Hashimi “represents a regional (and) international alert to all of Interpol’s 190 member countries to seek their help in locating and arresting him, following the issue of a national arrest warrant by Iraq’s Judicial Investigative Authority as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals,” Interpol said in a statement.
Al-Hashimi has been living in a Turkish government guest house in Istanbul. In recent months, he has lived in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, but has also traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the invitation of those governments.
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 a January interview with CNN, al-Hashimi accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki — a Shiite — of pushing the country toward a deep sectarian divide.
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 and has denied the charges, calling them “politically motivated.”
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.
A red notice is not an international arrest warrant, but many Interpol member countries consider the alert to be a valid request for provisional arrest, the agency said. Interpol cannot demand that any member country arrest the subject of a red notice. The police organization has been criticized in the past for allowing some nations to use such notices to target political opponents.
As an official guest of the Turkish government, al-Hashimi has been granted a meeting with Turkey’s prime minister. In recent months, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engaged in a war of words with al-Maliki.
Officials from the Turkish government were not immediately available for comment on whether or not Turkey would comply with the red notice.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, one of al-Hashimi’s aides in Istanbul downplayed the threat from Interpol.
“This Interpol decision has no value,” Mehmet Bulovali told CNN. “This is a warning, not an arrest warrant.”
At a press conference in Istanbul on Friday, al-Hashimi argued he had been denied the right to defend himself fairly in court. He also claimed he still held the post of Iraqi vice president.
“Some of the media call Mr. Hashimi as fugitive. I am not,” he said, adding, “I’m still in my position as a vice president.”
CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq, Mohammed Jamjoom, Saad Abedine, Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert contributed to this report.