Fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Sunday after he was convicted of murder in a ruling likely to further exacerbate sectarian tension.
Hashemi, a Sunni, fled the country earlier this year after authorities accused him of running a death squad. His case triggered a crisis in the power-sharing government among Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish political blocs.
“The high criminal court issued a death sentence by hanging against Tareq al-Hashemi after he was convicted,” Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a spokesman for the judiciary council said.
Hashemi and his son-in-law were both found guilty of two murders. Under Iraqi law, a conviction is followed immediately by sentencing. The death sentence can be appealed.
Since the last American troops left in December, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government has been hamstrung by political deadlock among the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.
Upswings in political tension are often accompanied by a surge in violence as Sunni Islamists and a local al Qaeda wing seek to stir up the kind of sectarian killing that dragged Iraq to the edge of civil war in 2006-2007.
Bombings and attacks across Iraq killed at least 58 people on Sunday, including a bombing outside the French consular office in the southern city of Nassiriya.
Hashemi, who is in Turkey, has accused Maliki of conducting a political witch-hunt against Sunni opponents, but the government said it was a judicial case.
After the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and the rise of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority to power, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been sidelined. Sunni politicians say Maliki is failing to live up to agreements to share government power among the parties.