FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 file photo, Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press near Sulaimaniyah. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)
BAGHDAD (AP) — An Iraqi judicial panel said Thursday that Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and his employees ran death squads that for years carried out deadly attacks on security officials and Shiite pilgrims.
The nine-judge committee's findings, which are not legally binding, offered the first independent assessment of a case that has touched off a political crisis along sectarian lines and nearly brought the Iraqi government's work to a halt. Al-Hashemi has denied the allegations, and accuses Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of coordinating a smear campaign as part of a power grab.
Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said the investigating panel found at least 150 cases where either al-Hashemi, his bodyguards or other employees were linked to attacks ranging from roadside bombs to assassinations against security officials and Shiite pilgrims.
Bayrkdar, who did not offer any evidence to back up the panel's conclusions, said the death squads operated from 2005 to 2011. He said they were behind a bombing last December on the government's Integrity Commission headquarters that killed 25 people and the assassination of a deputy education minister in 2010.
There was no immediate comment from al-Hashemi or his Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.
The investigation was ordered by council Chief Judge Madhat al-Mahmoud after the Shiite-led government in December issued a warrant for al-Hashemi's arrest. He was one of hundreds of Sunnis who were charged with crimes in what Sunnis called an attempt by al-Maliki and his supporters to target political enemies.
Al-Hashemi is in Iraq's northern Kurdish region, where he has sought refuge from the central government in Baghdad. In December, he accused al-Maliki of ordering the warrant on "fabricated" charges as a campaign to "embarrass" him.
The investigating committee was created by the independent judicial council specifically to investigate the charges against al-Hashemi.
"We are an independent body that is not linked to any executive body," Saad al-Lami, one of the nine judges, said after the findings were announced. He said al-Maliki's office has "nothing to do with these investigations."
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.
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