Iraq’s vice president, Tariq Al-Hashemi has left Qatar today where he was on an apparent state visit. The country’s top Sunni official is wanted in Baghdad under terrorism charges. The government in Qatar said they did not know where he was travelling to though a source said he was heading for Saudi Arabia. Iraqi officials had attempted to have him extradited but faced resistance from the Qatar regime. The trouble comes just months after US forces nominally left Iraq and Barack Obama declared the war in that country over. It shows the instability that still abounds in the country after the 2003 war which took Saddam Hussein from the country’s top position.
Al-Hashemi is wanted on terrorist counts after accusations that he had run death squads targeting the country’s Shiite officials. Al Hashemi denied the charges and moved to the Kurdish region to protect himself. The Kurdish region of Iraq is autonomous and so offered legal protection to the hunted politician. Since that move there has been a great deal of turmoil between the region’s governments and Iraq over the treatment of Al-Hashemi. The Qatar regime refused to cooperate with his extradition arguing that he was a diplomatic official on a state visit and therefore had protection in Qatar. The declared an extradition would be outside of diplomatic norms.
The conflict shows one of the often ignored problems in the region, the enmity between Islam’s Sunni and Shia factions. The Sunni countries in the region are resisting the Iraq’s attempts to prosecute the minister and have threatened more drastic diplomatic measures. Some of the Sunni states ordered that charges against Al-Hashemi be dropped before a meeting held in Baghdad last week. The summit, the first Arab meeting to be held in Baghdad in 20 years, highlighted the split. The rift between the two factions is a difficult one to solve as attitudes have been firmly concreted though years of conflict.
The Arab meeting was supposed to focus mainly on issues relating to the ongoing violence in Syria, a Shiite nation. The prosecution of Mr. Al-Hashemi and the subsequent reactions of the Sunni states is a troubling one in a region with many other issues facing it. There is an ongoing Shiite insurgence in Yemen and Iraqi have long been embittered by sectarian relations. The country is not healed despite what the United States claimed as a job done last year.