Iraqi VP’s ex-guards testify to killing under orders
BAGHDAD FORMER bodyguards for Iraq’s fugitive vice-president have testified that they were ordered to kill security officials and plant roadside bombs as a politically charged terror trial against the Sunni leader got under way.
Vice-President Tariq al Hashemi, who was in Turkey but faced trial in absentia, has denied all charges against him. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
The case threatens to paralyse Iraq’s government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who critics claim is monopolising power. Hashemi is an ardent critic of Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for the vice president’s arrest the day after US troops left Iraq last December.
Hashemi has been accused of playing a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011, according to the judicial council. The Iraqi government alleges that Sunni death squads were largely composed of his bodyguards and other employees.
The charges against the vice-president span the worst years of bloodshed that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq as retaliatory sectarian attacks between Sunni and Shiite militants pushed the country to the brink of civil war. He has been in office since 2006.
Tuesday’s testimony focused on more recent years, when violence ebbed but insurgents continued to attack security forces and other targets in a bid to undermine the Iraqi government in the run-up to the US withdrawal in December.
Bodyguard Odai Ghazi Amin, who served in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein, said he joined al-Hashemi’s staff in 2008 and was ordered by the vice president’s son-inlaw in 2009 to escort bombplanting missions on roads across Baghdad.
In 2011, Amin said he was told to assassinate an army general and a lawyer orders he tried to avoid by asking for a job transfer. But he said he was threatened by the son-inlaw, who ran al Hashemi’s office, that he would be killed and his family in danger if he refused the deadly missions.
Last September, Amin testified, he was summoned to meet with the vice president.
“Hashemi told me that he is going to assign me to kill some officers who work against the interests of the state and to carry out operations on security checkpoints,” Amin said.
Amin testified that after the meeting, Hashemi’s son-inlaw Ahmed Qahtan, who also faces terror charges, gave him and two other bodyguards silenced guns and told them to assassinate army Brigadier General Talib Balaasim. The bodyguards tracked down Balaasim in western Baghdad, and Amin testified that he killed the general, in a September 26 drive-by shooting before returning to al Hashemi’s office in the heavily guarded Green Zone.
“About two days after the attack, Hashemi received us (in his office) and said to us, ‘God bless your efforts,’” Amin testified. He said the bodyguards shared a $3,000 payment.
Amin’s account was later contradicted by testimony from another bodyguard, Yassir Saadi Hassoun.
Hassoun said he and his brother opened fire on Balaasim, not Amin.
A third bodyguard, Ahmed al Jubouri, described a November 2011 shooting that killed national security official Ibrahim Saleh Mahdi and his wife. Jubouri said Mahdi was ordered killed because he had become “a source of annoyance” to al Hashemi.
Hashemi is in Turkey, where he has said he is receiving medical treatment. His spokesman, Fahad Turki, said Hashemi was not available to comment on Tuesday’s proceedings.
Ahmed Qahtan also is in Turkey.