Iraq’s fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death for murder on Sunday in a ruling likely to further stoke sectarian tensions just hours after a wave of bombings killed 58 people across the country.
Hashemi, a senior Sunni Muslim politician, fled Iraq after authorities accused him of running a death squad, charges that triggered a crisis in power-sharing among Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish blocs as U.S. troops were pulling out in December.
The vice president is unlikely to return to Iraq from Turkey. He had accused Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of orchestrating a crackdown on Sunni opponents and refused to appear in a court he said was biased.
Hashemi and his son-in-law were both found guilty of murdering a female lawyer and security official, Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a judiciary spokesman said.
“This is a political decision. All our respect to the Iraqi judicial system, but this was political,” said lawmaker Jaber al-Jaberi, a member of Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.
Hashemi’s lawyer said there would be no appeal because the trial was conducted in absentia.
Since the last U.S. troops left, Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government has been in political deadlock, and insurgents continue to strike, hoping to spark the kind of sectarian tensions that drove Iraq close to civil war in 2006-2007.
Hours before the sentencing was announced, a wave of bombings and shootings killed at least 58 people across the country from the northern city of Kirkuk to southern Nassiriya where a car bombhit a French consular office.
The most serious of the bombings happened near the city of Amara, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad, when two car bombs exploded outside a Shi’ite shrine and a market place, killing at least 16 people, officials said.