BAGHDAD – Iraq's fugitive vice president was in Turkey on Tuesday, his third stop in what he says is an official visit to regional countries that risks complicating Baghdad's relations with its neighbors.
A statement issued late Monday by the office of Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government, said he arrived in Istanbul and plans to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss developments in the region.
It isn't clear how long al-Hashemi intends to stay in Istanbul. Erdogan is currently on an official visit to China.
Al-Hashemi is wanted in Iraq on terror charges for allegedly running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces. Iraq's Shiite-dominated government issued a warrant for his arrest in December, touching off a political crisis in Baghdad and deepening the country's sectarian divide just days after the U.S. military withdrawal.
Al-Hashemi, who has denied the charges and says they are politically motivated, took refuge in the self-ruled Kurdish region in northern Iraq, where he is effectively out of reach from state security forces loyal to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
His stop in Turkey is the latest on his first trip abroad since the terrorism allegations were leveled against him.
At the start of the month, al-Hashemi traveled to the Gulf state of Qatar, where he met with Qatar's emir and the prime minister. He also gave an interview to pan-Arab television channel Al-Jazeera in which he said the charges were designed to push him out of Iraq's political process.
The foreign trip infuriated Baghdad, which called on Qatar to hand al-Hashemi over. Doha refused.
The dispute heightened tensions between the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the Gulf Arab countries, which are ruled by Sunnis.
Al-Hashemi then flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia last week, where he was met by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.