Fugitive Iraq VP leaves Kurdish zone for Qatar

BAGHDAD - Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, at the center of a political row that has jeopardized Iraq's sectarian balance, left the autonomous northern Kurdish region for Qatar on Sunday, a statement from his office said.
Hashemi, one of the top politicians from the Sunni minority, is accused by Baghdad's Shi'ite-led government of running death squads, a charge he denies. He has been holed up in the Kurdish zone since Baghdad issued an arrest warrant for him in December.
The government includes Kurds and Sunnis under a power sharing deal designed to calm tensions that led to extreme sectarian violence in 2006-07 when thousands of Iraqis were killed.
In a clear defiance to the arrest warrant, Hashemi's office said he had left the country to visit predominantly Sunni Qatar.
"Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi left on Sunday morning ... heading to Doha in the brotherly state of Qatar in accordance with an invitation he received previously," the statement said.