Despite Interpol issuing a “red notice” for Iraq's fugitive Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, currently residing in Turkey, Ankara is not expected to arrest Hashemi and return him to Iraq.
Lyon-based Interpol officials say Tuesday's move came at the request of the government in Baghdad, which charged Hashemi with terrorism and accused him of running death squads that targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims. He denies the charges, which he says are “politically motivated.”
In response to questions about the issue at a press conference in Italy, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday that Hashemi has initiated an appeal process against the Iraqi Interpol. "Hashemi continues with his initiatives regarding his legal problems," Erdoğan said. "We gave him all kinds support on this issue and we will continue to do so."
Hashemi, who has vowed to not return to face what he calls politically motivated charges, is one of the nation's highest-ranking Sunni politicians and being tried in absentia in Baghdad.
He arrived in Turkey in April to secure Ankara's help against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's policy of excluding Sunni politicians from power. He had asked for protection from Turkey due to the death threats he had received.
He was taken under special protection after he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Iraq has not yet formally requested that Turkey hand over Hashemi.
The vice-president has denied he was involved in murdering six judges and other officials following the arrest warrant. He says the charges are politically motivated and has refused to stand trial in Baghdad.
"My defense lawyer will present an appeal to Interpol in the next few days," Hashemi said in a statement. "I won't submit to pressure and blackmail."
A Turkish official told Today's Zaman that Interpol's red notice on Hashemi is not an arrest warrant but just a notification that Hashemi's arrest was sought after by Iraq.
Many member countries consider a red notice to be a valid request for the arrest of a suspect, but Interpol cannot demand individual nations make an arrest. Turkey, which has provided sanctuary to Hashemi and is on tense terms with his opponents in the Iraqi government, has not responded so far to the Interpol notice.
Mehmet Özcan, chairman of the Ankara Strategic Institute, told Today's Zaman on Tuesday that Turkey will not run into international judiciary problems if it refuses to arrest Hashemi.
“When there are doubts that the suspect will receive a fair trial where he is sought, a country which is a host to that suspect has a right to not to return him,” Özcan said indicating that there is not a fair trial mechanism in Iraq, and the case against Hashemi is politically motivated.
Hashemi is staying under the protection of Turkish security agents at a luxury apartment in İstanbul, Turkey's NTV television said. A policeman with a machinegun guards the entrance of his apartment building, and several police cars were parked outside on Tuesday, according to NTV.
In an interview last week in İstanbul, Hashemi told The Associated Press that his trial was part of a political vendetta that has wider repercussions for Iraqi unity and sectarian tensions across the Middle East.
He also alleged that Iraqi PM Maliki, a Shiite, may have engineered the proceedings to snuff out domestic opposition in case he is threatened by a revolt in Iraq similar to that in neighboring Syria.
Hashemi's representatives maintain he left Iraq for diplomatic meetings with regional leaders, not to escape arrest.
Meanwhile, Maliki's media adviser, Ali al-Moussawi, on Tuesday called on al-Hashemi to return to Iraq and face trial.
The trial was postponed last week as Hashemi's lawyers appealed to have parliament create a special court to hear the case.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the red notice for Hashemi "will significantly restrict his ability to travel and cross international borders."
"It is a powerful tool that will help authorities around the world locate and arrest him," Interpol's website quoted Noble as saying.
Hasan Kanbolat, chairman of the Middle East Strategic Research Center in Ankara, told Today's Zaman that the situation will influence Turkey-Iraq relations which have already deteriorated.
“Relations between the two countries are already tense. I don't think it will deteriorate further than this,” he said.
Maliki recently accused Turkey of interfering in Iraq's affairs and said, “Turkey is becoming a hostile country.”