BAGHDAD The trial of Iraq's fugitive vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, accused of running death squads, was postponed on Thursday after defense lawyers argued it should be held in a special court.
The leading Sunni Muslim politician fled Baghdad in December when the Shi'ite-led government issued a warrant for his arrest. He denies all charges and says they are politically motivated.
Now in Istanbul, he has refused to stand trial in Baghdad, saying Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki controls the courts.
Hashemi's son-in-law, Ahmed Ahmed Kahtan, and 73 of his bodyguards have also been charged. No defendant was in court.
Iraq's delicately-balanced ruling coalition of Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds has been strained since the government brought charges against Hashemi and tried to remove another Sunni leader, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, shortly after U.S. troops pulled out of the country in December.
CALL FOR SPECIAL COURT
Judiciary spokesman Abdel Sattar al-Beriqdar said the trial had been postponed to May 10 because a file related to the venue objections by Hashemi's lawyers was in another court.
Hashemi's defense team argued he should not be tried in the Central Criminal Court, saying that the Iraqi constitution provided for a "special court" for senior political figures.
"There should be a special court for those occupying key positions like prime minister, president and parliamentary speaker," Moaid al-Azia, head of the defense team, told reporters.
"We asked the federal court to give its opinion and have also made representations to the cassation court," he said.
The trial will initially focus on three murder charges involving "the assassination of a general manager in the Ministry of National Security, an officer in the Interior Ministry and a female lawyer", a judiciary council statement said.
Hashemi and his bodyguards were also charged on Monday with the murders of six judges. Prosecutors are investigating about 300 potential charges against the group.
The hearing, attended by representatives of the United Nations and human rights groups, coincided with several bombing and shooting incidents elsewhere in Baghdad in which one soldier was killed and several people were wounded.
(Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Alistair Lyon)