Qalachwalan (Iraq): Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is charged with running a death squad, said on Sunday that he would not go to Baghdad to stand trial and raised the prospect of fleeing Iraq.
    
Hashemi, holed up at an official guesthouse of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the country's autonomous Kurdish region, acknowledged his guards may have carried out attacks, but he has steadfastly denied any involvement.
    
The warrant against Hashemi, issued nearly a week ago, has been the focus of a political row between Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which is a part of his national unity government and of which Hashemi is a member.
    
Asked if he would return to Baghdad to face trial, Hashemi said: "Of course not." He attributed his refusal to travel to the capital to poor security and politicization of the justice system.
    
He said most of his guards had been arrested and had their weapons confiscated, adding that "there is no security for the vice president. How can I come back to Baghdad if I cannot secure myself?"
    
"The Iraqi judicial council is under the control and the influence of the central government, and this is a big problem," Hashemi added in a one-hour interview during which he was surrounded by unarmed guards.
    
"That is why I asked to move the case to Kurdistan. ... Justice here will not be politicised."
    
Since US troops completed their withdrawal a week ago, Iraq has been mired in political crisis, with Hashemi wanted and Maliki calling for the sacking of his Sunni deputy after the latter called him a dictator "worse than Saddam Hussein."     

Iraqiya, the bloc of Hashemi and deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak, has boycotted parliament and the cabinet in protest at Maliki's alleged centralisation of power.
    
Coupled with a spate of attacks on Thursday in Baghdad which killed 60 people, the row has heightened sectarian tensions in the country.
    
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, meanwhile, has said Ankara would not turn Hashemi away if he requested asylum, but said he should stay in Iraq.
    
"I have no intention to leave Iraq at this time, unless my personal security is endangered," Hashemi said in Sunday's interview. "Then, we will talk about this."
    
He added that he was still fulfilling his duties as vice president, and "if I decide to travel outside Iraq, it will be related to my responsibilities as a vice president and not to have political asylum."

Agencies