(REUTERS – 3RD MAY) Iraqis said they hoped for judicial independence on the trial of fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on Thursday (May 3), hours before the start of the trial in absentia of an Iraqi official and his bodyguards on charges of murder, assassinations and bombing attacks.
Hashemi, one of Iraq’s top Sunni Muslim politicians, fled Baghdad in December when the Shi’ite-led central government issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of running death squads. He is now in Istanbul in Turkey and is not expected to attend the trial.
Hashemi has offered to stand trial in the city of Kirkuk - controlled by Sunnis and Kurds – but said he will not face the charges in Baghdad because he believes the courts are controlled by the prime minister,Nuri al-Maliki.
One local resident in Baghdad, Sabah Redha, said efforts to implement political influence on the courts should be rejected regardless of the final verdict.
“We should reject and confront the attempts to politicise the court. If we see there is an attempt to overlook some charges or there is (political) bargaining we should reject it. We want justice to prevail whether al-Hashemi is guilty or not,” Sabah said.
Another local resident, Emad voiced faith in the Iraqi judiciary system, saying it had proved its independence in past cases.
“The trial is subject to judicial independence, we have seen in many cases before that the Iraqi judiciary is independent and there is no impact of Iraqi political parties on the judiciary. Iraq’s judiciary will have a say,” he said, urging for Hashemi to face the courts.
Hashemi initially escaped to the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, where the authorities refused to hand him over.
Iraq’s delicately-balanced ruling coalition of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds began to strain in December after U.S. troops left and the government tried to remove Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and made the accusations against Hashemi.
The central government and the Kurdish region have long-running disputes over political autonomy, oil rights and contested territories.
Earlier this week a statement released by a judiciary council spokesman said that 13 of Hashemi’s bodyguards had been released for lack of evidence and another 73 remained in custody.