Vice-President denies he ran Sunni hit squad

Iraq's Sunni Vice-President yesterday denied accusations he ran a hit squad that killed government officials during the nation's wave of sectarian bloodletting, accusing the Shia-led government of waging a campaign of persecution.

Acting just a day after American forces completed their withdrawal, the government issued an arrest warrant on Monday for Tariq al-Hashemi. The step risks exacerbating the same sectarian divisions that pushed Iraq to the edge of civil war just a few years ago. Mr Hashemi described the charges as "fabricated". He accused the Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, of being behind a plot to smear him and declared that efforts at national reconciliation had been blown apart.

Mr Hashemi told reporters: "I swear to God that I didn't commit any sin or do anything wrong against any Iraqi."

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath party regime, Sunnis have constantly complained of attempts by the Shia majority to sideline them.

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