Fugitive Iraq VP convicted, attack kills 92

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An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president was sentenced Sunday to death by hanging on charges he masterminded death squads against rivals in a terror trial that has fueled sectarian tensions in the country. Underscoring the instability, insurgents unleashed an onslaught of bombings and shootings across Iraq, killing at least 92 people in one of the deadliest days this year.

It’s unlikely that the attacks in 13 cities were all timed to coincide with the afternoon verdict that capped a monthslong case against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a longtime foe of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Still, taken together, the violence and verdict could energize Sunni insurgents bent on returning Iraq to the brink of civil war by targeting Shiites and undermining the government.

Most of the attacks were allegedly carried out by al-Hashemi’s bodyguards and other employees, and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.

The politically charged case — which was announced the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country last December — sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, whom critics say is monopolizing power.

The worst violence on Sunday struck the capital, where bombs pounded a half-dozen neighborhoods — both Sunni and Shiite — throughout the day. But the deadliest attacks in Baghdad hit Shiite areas Sunday evening, hours after the al-Hashemi verdict was announced. In all, 42 people were killed in the capital and 120 wounded, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The countrywide attacks began before dawn, with gunmen killing soldiers at an army post in the central Iraqi city of Dujail. A few hours later, a car exploded in a lot where police recruits waiting in line to apply for jobs outside Kirkuk in the country’s north.

Over the day, at least 92 people were killed and more than 360 wounded in at least 21 separate bombings and shootings, according to reports from police and hospital officials. Iraq’s Interior Ministry blamed al-Qaida in Iraq.

“The attacks today on the markets and mosques are aimed at provoking sectarian and political tensions,” the ministry said in a statement. “Our war against terrorism is continuing, and we are ready.”

The courtroom at Baghdad’s criminal court was silent Sunday as the presiding judge read out the verdict. It convicted al-Hashemi and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, of organizing the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president’s allies in terror cases. The two defendants were acquitted in a third case of the killing of a security officer due to a lack of evidence.

The court sentenced both men in absentia to death by hanging. They have 30 days to appeal the verdict and could win a retrial if they return to Iraq to face the charges. Al-Hashemi — who has been in office since 2006 — is on Interpol’s most-wanted list, but Turkey has shown no interest in sending the vice president back to Baghdad.