BAGHDAD, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Iraq's top Sunni politician, defying the death sentence handed to him, said he believes politics influenced the court's decision and he is innocent.
Tariq al-Hashemi was convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged on charges he led death squads that carried out more than 150 attacks during a five-year period beginning in 2004. He was tried in absentia.
Speaking in Ankara, Turkey, Hashemi said Monday he was ready to face trial in a "just and fair" court and the court that sentenced him to death was "not competent," Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Hashemi fled to Turkey several months ago, saying the prosecution was politically motivated. He denied involvement in the attacks, saying Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, was trying to consolidate power.
"This ruling is an honor for me," Hashemi said. "It is a ruling of acquittal as far as I am concerned. It shows I am right. It is the price I am being asked to pay in exchange for my love for my country."
Hashemi, urging his followers to remain calm, described himself as "a symbol of all oppressed, when hundreds of thousands of people remain in prisons," The New York Times reported.
Hashemi spoke the day after attacks were reported in at least 10 Iraqi cities. At least 100 people died, making Sunday one of the deadliest in Iraq since the U.S. troops withdrew last year.
The timing of Hashemi's death sentence could further undermine Iraq's tenuous power-sharing agreement, mired by infighting since elections more than a year ago, CNN reported. Under the deal, the three major governmental positions -- prime minister, president and parliament speaker -- would be members of the country's three largest ethnic groups: the Shiites, the Kurds and the Sunnis. During the summer, the U.N. Security Council called on Iraq to take up political reconciliation talks.
Lawmaker Nada al-Jabouri, a member of Hashemi's Sunni-dominated Iraqiya political party, criticized the timing of the sentencing as Iraq prepares for reconciliation.
Questions also have been raised about whether the sentencing could further degrade relations between Iraq and Turkey, which has said Hashemi could remain as long as he wishes. The two countries have been divided about the violence in Syria and about a Kurdish militant group seeking Kurdish autonomy that has attacked Turkey from Iraq for years.
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