Iraq's deputy prime minister called on Qatar Monday to hand over Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president to face terror charges, a move likely to further strain ties between Shiite-led Iraq and Gulf Arab states.
Hussain al-Shahristani said at a news conference in Baghdad that Qatar's decision to host Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's government, was "unacceptable."
"Qatar should review its position and send al-Hashemi back to Iraq so that he stands trial," al-Shahristani said.
The visit marks al-Hashemi's first foreign trip since he fled to Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region to avoid an arrest warrant issued in December. Iraqi officials accused al-Hashemi of running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces. He denies the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
The self-ruled Kurdish region has its own security forces, which means al-Hashemi was effectively out of reach of police controlled by the central government in Baghdad. Kurdish officials have repeatedly rejected Baghdad's requests to turn over al-Hashemi.
Iraq's Interior Ministry last month demanded that Kurdish leaders arrest al-Hashemi before he could flee the country. The Kurds' refusal to do so is another point of contention between Baghdad and the regional government, also at odds over the region's oil resources.
Al-Shahristani blasted Kurdish leaders for ignoring the nationwide arrest warrant and letting al-Hashemi leave through Irbil airport.
"To allow al-Hashemi to leave in this way represents a clear challenge to Iraqi law," he said.
A statement from al-Hashemi's office said the Iraqi vice president and the emir of Qatar discussed domestic and regional issues at a meeting in Doha Monday afternoon.
Al-Hashemi's trip to Qatar is likely to deepen tensions between Iraq's government and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf. Qatar has criticized what it calls the marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis. The strained relations are also linked to Baghdad's close ties with Iran and its ambivalent stand on Syria's year-long conflict.
The frosty relations were on display at an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week. The rulers of Sunni-led Gulf states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates stayed away, snubbing Iraq by sending lower-level officials in their place.