Fugitive Iraqi Vice President Hashemi's trial postponed again

BAGHDAD Thu May 10, 2012 5:43am EDT

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The trial of Iraq's fugitive vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, accused of running death squads, was postponed for a second time on Thursday with the politician still in Turkey after his case sparked a crisis in Iraq's cross-sectarian government.

Hashemi, a leading Sunni Muslim politician in parliament's Iraqiya bloc, fled Baghdad in December when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government sought his arrest just days after the last American troops left Iraq.

Interpol is seeking Hashemi's arrest over murder charges, but he denies the accusations, which Iraqiya says are part of a campaign of persecution as Maliki seeks to consolidate power.

Hashemi's lawyers want to hold the trial in a special court for senior officials, as they say the constitution allows, rather than in Central Criminal Court in Baghdad. They say the investigation is riddled with legal errors.

"We presented an appeal to the Federal Court because of significant errors and mistakes in the investigation," Moaid al-Azia, head of Hashemi's defense team, told Reuters.

The court set May 15 to resume proceedings, he said.

The crisis triggered by the Hashemi case threatened to unravel Iraq's delicate power-sharing agreement among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs, and stirred fears of a return to the sectarian slaughter that engulfed the country in 2006-2007.

Iraq's crisis was further complicated in April when the country's autonomous Kurdistan region halted oil exports, escalating a long-running dispute with Baghdad over control of petroleum reserves and disputed territories.

Political blocs are now haggling about how to ease tensions over power-sharing with a national conference among the country's leaders, but some Maliki critics say they may try to seek a vote of no confidence against the Shi'ite leader.

Violence in Iraq has eased from the bloodier days of the conflict, but Sunni Islamist insurgents tied to al-Qaeda are still active. They often target Shi'ites or government officials in an attempt to whip up sectarian tensions.

(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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