BAGHDAD - Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki was denounced on Monday by Sunni Muslim Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi as a conspirator and oppressor, in league with fellow Shi'ites in Iran and driven by religious hatred to engineer the death sentence handed down on Hashemi on Sunday for murders committed by sectarian death squads.
The verdict against a mainstream leader of Iraq's once-dominant Sunni minority was accompanied by bombings and attacks on Shi'ite targets that killed about 115 people, making it one of the bloodiest days since US troops pulled out in December. Maliki's government was quick to blame Sunni insurgents.
Hashemi, speaking from exile in Turkey, called for "calm" but firm opposition to a premier whose efforts to stitch together an administration uniting Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds have looked distinctly ragged since an arrest warrant for the vice president was issued the very day after the Americans left.
"Yesterday Prime Minister Maliki and his...judiciary concluded the final phase of the theatrical campaign against me using a kangaroo court," Hashemi told a news conference in Ankara. "My people, don't give Maliki and those who stand behind him the chance.... They want to make this a sectarian conflict. Oppose his conspiracies and provocation calmly."