Hashemi says Ready to Stand Trial in Kurdistan Iraq's Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi
Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president said he stood ready to defend himself against terror charges in a defiant news conference on Tuesday as rival leaders called for urgent talks to resolve a worsening crisis.
"I suggest transferring the case to Kurdistan," Hashemi told a news conference in the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. "On this basis, I will be ready to face trial."
He called for representatives of the Arab League to take part in the investigation and any questioning, and said apparent confessions aired on state television linking him to attacks were fabricated.
Hashemi also questioned upbeat statements about the state of Iraq from US President Barack Obama, telling reporters: "I am surprised by the statements of the US president, when he said that Iraq had become democratic and had an independent judicial system."
Authorities issued a warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's arrest on Monday, spurring his Iraqiya bloc to say it would boycott cabinet meetings.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for the sacking of one of his deputies, a Sunni who branded the Shiite-led government a "dictatorship".
The White House voiced concern over the developments as US ambassador James Jeffrey met Iraqi leaders, although Maliki's office ruled out any mediation over the charges against Hashemi.
Officials issued the warrant for Hashemi's arrest on Monday, after earlier banning him from travelling overseas.
At least 13 of the vice president's bodyguards have been detained in recent weeks, although it was unclear how many remain in custody.
Hashemi's office said only three were arrested, and has complained of "intentional harassment" in the form of blockade of his home by security forces for several weeks, as well as other incidents.
State television has shown footage of what the interior ministry said were confessions by Hashemi's bodyguards to planning and carrying out terror attacks, and receiving funding and support from the vice president.
Maliki and other leaders have called for talks to resolve the political crisis, but the premier's spokesman said he would not accept any mediation over the charges against Hashemi.
"The prime minister will not compromise the blood of Iraqis, no matter what the price," Ali Mussawi said. "The justice system should carry out its role. No one should block the work of justice, and we must allow it to complete all stages of the investigation in Hashemi's case."
Maliki has also called for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, like Hashemi a Sunni Arab and a member of the Iraqiya bloc, to be sacked after Mutlak said the premier was "worse than Saddam Hussein".
Lawmakers are due to consider Maliki's request to fire Mutlak on January 3.
The premier's call for urgent talks was echoed by parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani.
Nujaifi said Iraq's political process faced "crucial days", while Barzani warned that "the situation is headed towards deep crisis" and cautioned that "the ruling partnership has become threatened."
In November 2010, Barzani hosted a meeting of Iraqi leaders at which the foundations of the national unity government were laid, ending months of deadlock following elections in March that year, with a cabinet eventually named on December 21.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the United States, whose troops completed their withdrawal from Iraq over the weekend, had "expressed our concern regarding these developments."
Iraqiya said it would boycott cabinet to protest Maliki's "dictatorship" although it has not pulled out of the government.
The bloc, which holds 82 of the 325 seats in parliament and controls nine ministerial posts, had earlier said it was suspending its participation in the legislature.
Iraqiya, which garnered most of its support from the Sunni Arab minority and emerged with the largest number of seats in March 2010 elections, was out-manoeuvred for the premiership by Maliki who finished second in the polls but subsequently broadened his power base by striking a deal with another faction.