* Bombings in cities across Iraq; French consulate hit
* Vice-president Hashemi in Turkey, unlikely to return
* Divided government struggling over power-sharing
By Kareem Raheem
BAGHDAD, Sept 9 A series of bombs ripped through
mainly Shi'ite Baghdad districts on Sunday after Iraq's fugitive
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death, ending
one of the bloodiest days of the year with more than 100 killed
across the country.
The violence and the sentence for Hashemi, a senior Sunni
politician, threatened to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq where
a Shi'ite-led government is battling political instability and a
Sunni Islamist insurgency nine months after U.S. troops left.
Hashemi, a fierce critic of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki, fled Iraq after the authorities issued a warrant for
his arrest in December, a move that risked collapsing a fragile
power-sharing agreement among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.
After Sunday's court ruling, car bombs tore through six
districts around Baghdad, hitting a restaurant and a cafe.
Another bomb went off in a busy commercial area, killing more
than 50 people following bombs in other cities nationwide.
"I heard women screaming, I saw people running in all
directions, chairs scattered in the street. My windows were
blown out, my mother and two kids were injured too," said Alla
Majid, still shaking after a blast in Baghdad's Sadr City.
Hashemi, who is unlikely to return to Iraq from Turkey, had
accused Maliki's government of controlling the judiciary and of
orchestrating a crackdown on Sunni opponents. He had refused to
appear in a court he dismissed as biased.
He and his son-in-law were both found guilty in absentia of
murdering a female lawyer and security official, Abdul-Sattar
al-Birqdar, a judiciary spokesman said.
"This is a political decision. All our respect to the Iraqi
judicial system, but this was political," said lawmaker Jaber
al-Jaberi, a member of Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.
Hours before the sentence was announced, a wave of bombings
and shootings had already killed at least 58 people and a car
bomb had exploded outside a French consular office in Nassiriya
in southern Iraq.
Since the last U.S. troops left, Maliki's Shi'ite-led
government has been politically deadlocked and insurgents have
continued to strike, hoping to ignite the kind of sectarian
tensions that drove Iraq close to civil war in 2006-2007.
The most serious of the attacks happened near the city of
Amara, 300 km (185 miles) south of the capital, when two car
bombs exploded outside a Shi'ite shrine and a market place,
killing at least 24 people, officials said.
With its main hospital overflowing with the injured, mosques
in Amara used prayer loudspeakers to call for blood donations.
More were killed in bombings in the towns of Kirkuk, Baquba,
Samarra, Basra and Tuz Khurmato, and there was also a strike on
an army base and a bombing of security guard recruits for the
Iraqi North Oil Company.
The car bomb outside the building housing the French
consular office in Nassiriya, 300 km south of Baghdad, killed a
police guard and wounded four, authorities said. The consul, an
Iraqi citizen, was not at the office.
After the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and the rise
to power of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they
have been sidelined.
Sunni politicians say Maliki is failing to live up to
agreements to share power among the parties, a charge his
backers dismiss, pointing to Sunnis in key posts.
When the Hashemi charges were announced, his Iraqiya party
attempted a short-lived boycott of parliament and the Cabinet.
But the party has since splintered further, strengthening the
political hand of Maliki's Shi'ite coalition.
Heightened political tension is often accompanied by a surge
in violence as Sunni Islamist insurgents try to capitalise on
instability to strike at the government, local security forces
and Shi'ite religious targets.
Violence in Iraq has eased since the dark days of sectarian
slaughter that erupted a few years after the 2003 invasion to
topple Saddam. But insurgents are still carrying out at least
one major coordinated attack a month.
Infighting in the religiously mixed government, and a
resurgence of a local al Qaeda wing, are raising fears of a
return to wider violence, especially as Iraq is struggling to
contain spillover from Syria's crisis over the border.
Iraq's local al Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, has
claimed responsibility for major attacks on security forces and
Shi'ite neighbourhoods. Former members of Saddam's outlawed
Baathist party and other Sunni Islamist groups are also fighting