VP’s Death Sentence Mires Turkish-Iraqi Relationship

Article Summary
Exiled in Turkey and sentenced to death in absentia, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has reignited old divisions between Ankara and Baghdad, writes Haifa Zaiter, gauging official opinion on the case and its political dimensions.

The sentence issued against Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has reignited the political crisis at all levels of the Iraqi domestic arena and has affected Iraqi-Turkish relations.

The controversy has grown and while some parties consider the death sentence “by hanging” issued against Hashemi to be based on judicial motives, others see the decision as an attempt to foment strife once again. Some individuals have gone so far as to say that the decision against Hashemi is linked to the Syrian crisis.

However, disregarding the sectarian strife — which has always served as a necessary evil on the Iraqi landscape — the decision against Hashemi weighs heavily on the conflict between various Iraqi political blocs, as well as on the future of relations between Baghdad and Ankara. This is not to mention the media “hype,” which has surrounded the case ever since Hashemi was first accused of terrorism and later regarding his asylum in Kurdistan and his escape to Turkey.

While the government of [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] has insisted that the sentence against Hashemi is a matter of justice and is not subject to any political influence, the case has served as a method for the government to flex its muscles, show its influence and send political and “security” messages.

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In the same vein, one must mention the accusation made by a prominent Iraqi military official against Hashemi, who claimed [Hashemi] was behind the bloody attacks that struck Iraq a few days ago. However, many felt certain that Hashemi could not possibly have carried out such attacks.

“These attacks are the work of a state, which is affected by Iraq’s position on the Syrian crisis and wants to deliver a message to Baghdad that it is not immune from the ramifications of this crisis,” said Hameed Fadel, a political science professor.

In an interview with As-Safir, Fadel said that the Hashemi case has only served as a means of shedding light on the crisis raging between Baghdad and Ankara regarding the situation in Syria.

Furthermore, Fadel — who is known to be close to Maliki — added that Iraq’s political ordeal has been going on for years. However, the decision against Hashemi has added fuel to the flames, since it is a judicial matter, regardless of its political repercussions. According to Fadel, the decision will have an impact, first and foremost, on the Iraqi domestic arena. It will then lead to more congestion and pave the way for terrorist groups to take action.

However the decision will also have an impact on relations with Turkey, considering that ties between the two countries are in danger, especially given that Ankara has become a key party in an Iraqi crisis that is supposedly internal. It is to be noted that Hashimi’s meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was remarkably timed immediately after the decision.

Abdul Halim al-Raheemi, a member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, explained Iraq’s central government's position to As-Safir. Raheem said that the government did not interfere with the judiciary, and the decision was taken by an independent judicial body that did not include any Shiite judges.

The Turkish government was clear in its response, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu guaranteed Hashemi’s safety. In fact, Hashemi was an old friend of Ankara before becoming a refugee. His political positions are beneficial to Turkey and his Shiite enemy is also Turkey’s enemy.

In this  context, Ersat Hurmuzlu, a senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, expressed the Turkish position to As-Safir and affirmed that “The issue is strictly related to Maliki. Since Hashemi still holds the post of vice president, he has every right to stay in Turkey.”

Hurmuzlu noted that "the death penalty is not a final decision and Hashemi has the right to appeal.

“Moreover, Turkey is not bound to extradite him, since it has not signed any extradition treaty with Iraq and also does not have the death penalty,” he added.

It is notable that Hurmuzlu insisted that the issue is personal and does not affect the Turkish-Iraqi relations. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia hosting ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali did not affect Saudi-Tunisian relations.

The Kurdish side, which is considered to be pivotal in this issue, tried to maintain a position of compromise. While the Kurds criticized the decision’s timing, saying that it “came amid efforts to hold the national reconciliation conference,” they said they are keen “to respect the Iraqi judiciary decisions.”

Despite his concern regarding the “importance and respect” commanded by the judiciary, Kurdish MP Mahmoud Uthman told As-Safir that the issue was more political than criminal.

He added: “We are not saying that the judiciary’s decision is wrong, but in case political issues associated with this case are settled, this will automatically affect the judiciary’s decision.”

Uthman revealed that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, upon returning home this week, will meet with Iraq’s political blocs to discuss this issue.

Amid these divergent positions, the future of the case is ambiguous, in the absence of an answer as to why Hashemi still holds his post and what future steps will be taken.

Raheemi, a political writer and analyst and former member of the communications and media commission, insisted that Hashemi could appeal and return to Iraq to undergo a new trial.

However, if the Turkish government does not consider Hashemi a war criminal who can be pursued through Interpol, he will remain a guest in Turkey until further notice.

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Found in: turkish-iraqi relations, turkey, syria, iraq, baghdad, ankara
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