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Iraq VP Hashemi reasserts innocence

Lara Jakes and Yahya Barzanji report for the Associated Press:

Iraq's Sunni vice president on Monday asked for popular support to fight government charges that he commandeered death squads and said he would continue to defy arrest with the help of the nation's powerful Kurds in a showdown that tests the limits of Baghdad's reach.

The government's case against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi deepens tensions in a country still splintered by Sunni and Shiite sectarian rivalries. It now also threatens to draw a new wedge between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and Kurdish leaders in Iraq's north who refuse to hand over al-Hashemi for trial.

In a half-hour speech from the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq's north, al-Hashemi described the charges against him as "politically motivated" and said he would not return to Baghdad.

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