(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Iraq has formally asked authorities in the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region to hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and 12 of his entourage to face charges of running death squads, an Iraqi official said yesterday.
Iraq's Shia-led government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni politician in mid-December, shortly after the withdrawal of the last US troops, triggering a political crisis that threatens Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fragile governing coalition of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions.
The move against Hashemi and Maliki's request to parliament to remove Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, followed a few days later by a series of bombings in mostly Shia areas of Baghdad that killed at least 72 people, revived fears of sectarian strife in the Opec oil producer.
"We sent an official request a day ago to the interior ministry and (security forces) of the Kurdistan region asking them to hand over al-Hashemi with 12 other suspects to judicial authorities in Baghdad," Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal, Iraq's deputy interior minister, said.
Hashemi, who has denied the charges, travelled to the Kurdish region after the central government sought his arrest. He has said he cannot get a fair trial in Baghdad.
Judicial authorities of the Kurdish Regional Government confirmed they had received the request but declined to say if they would turn Hashemi over.
"We received today an arrest warrant against Tareq al-Hashemi with a decision prohibiting him from travelling," Dadyar Hameed, a spokesman for the Judiciary Council, told reporters in Arbil. "Due to the sensitivity of this issue we will only have this statement and (will) have further details later."
Kamal said it was not the first time Baghdad had asked Kurdish authorities to hand over suspects and fugitives.
"The regional authorities must respond to our request as we sent them arrest warrants issued from Iraqi courts and we have full co-operation in this respect," he said.
But he said the central government does not have the right to send security forces to arrest Hashemi in Kurdistan, which has its own military and police.
"The region has a special status of having its own security forces and that was set by the constitution. They can't come here and arrest suspects and we also can't go to the region and arrest suspects," he said. "This is a political issue and should be resolved through mutual co-operation."
lA leading Republican senator warned yesterday that Iraq was "unraveling" in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops, putting at risk the thousands of American civilians in the country.
Senator John McCain, who lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, blamed the deteriorating situation on the Obama administration's failure to leave behind a residual US force.
"I think there's clearly an unravelling going on which could eventually lead basically into three different kinds of states in Iraq," McCain said on CBS television's Face the Nation.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta earlier on the same CBS show expressed confidence that Iraqi forces were capable of dealing with the security threats and said "our people can be secure in what... they're doing there".
But McCain said the estimated 15,000 US civilians working in the country were not safe.
He warned that if Iraq descends into chaos, "we would have to withdraw them."
"Look, what Secretary Panetta may not understand-and I have great admiration and respect for him-is that the situation is unravelling.