Iraq’s fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death in absentia Sunday when a court ruled he was guilty of murder. The politician had gone on the run as soon as authorities accused him of running death squads last December. Until then, he was the most senior Sunni Muslim politician in the predominantly Shia government, notes BBC News. The ruling risks sparking sectarian tensions years after Iraq almost descended into a civil war.
Hours before the sentencing, a wave of attacks and bombings, most of which seemed aimed at security forces, killed at least 58 people across the country, reports Reuters. The violence struck at least 11 cities and wounded almost 240 people, reports the Associated Press, noting that the attacks highlight how militants are trying to “sow havoc in the country and undermine the government.”
The deadliest bombing took place in Amara, around 185 miles south of Baghdad, where two car bombs killed at least 16 people outside a market. Meanwhile, in Dujail, gunmen and a suicide bomber attacked a military base and killed 11 soldiers. Later a car bomb hit a group of police recruits in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing seven. Iraq’s Interior Ministry blamed al-Qaida for the violence, notes the AP.
The warrant for Hashemi’s arrest was issued on 19 December, the day after U.S. troops left the country, reports the BBC. He eventually made his way to Turkey and refused to appear in court, saying that it was biased. Prosecutors had accused him of being involved in around 150 killings but in the end Hashemi and his son-in-law were found guilty of murdering a lawyer and a security official. The sentencing “could deepen an already intractable political crisis in Iraq among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds,” warns the New York Times.