Iraqi VP's lawyers want president to testify

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Lawyers for Iraq's fugitive vice president on Thursday asked judges in his terror trial to summon the nation's president as a defense witness.

The three-judge panel immediately rejected the request but said the defense can appeal.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politician, is accused of running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and pilgrims. Al-Hashemi, who has sought refuge in Turkey, has denied wrongdoing and has said he is the victim of a political vendetta by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

Al-Maliki is facing mounting allegations from within his broad-based unity government that he is excluding minority Sunni and Kurdish coalition partners from power.

The case against al-Hashemi has fueled Sunni and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, who critics charge is monopolizing power. A warrant for al-Hashemi's arrest was issued the day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December.

At a session earlier this month, the defense team announced it was quitting the case after the court blocked a request for evidence the lawyers said could exonerate al-Hashemi.

On Thursday, al-Hashemi's lawyers sat among the spectators, rather than at the defense table.

Even so, they interacted with the judges, including making the request to summon Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and five Sunni lawmakers as defense witnesses.

The lawyers said they wanted to question Talabani as a character witness and ask him if he had any information about al-Hashemi's alleged role in terror attacks.

Al-Hashemi is charged with involvement in killing two government officials and a lawyer.

Three bodyguards, a former insurgent and a police officer took the stand Thursday. They said they carried out a number of bombing attacks between 2005 and 2011, targeting security and government officials. They said they received their orders from al-Hashemi's son-in-law, who faces the same charges as the vice president.

The former insurgent told the court al-Hashemi's aides approached him in 2009 and offered to fund his nine-member group to carry out attacks on security forces north of Baghdad.

In previous sessions, the court heard testimony from three of al-Hashemi's former bodyguards, who said they were ordered and paid to kill security officials and plant roadside bombs. The witnesses said the orders came either from al-Hashemi's son-in-law, who worked as his office manager, or from the vice president himself.

The court adjourned until June 19.