Iraq VP: Death squad charges politically motivated

By SAMEER N. YACOUB | February 20, 2012 | 5:55 AM EST

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's embattled Sunni vice president says government charges that he ran death squads are politically motivated.

Tariq al-Hashemi vigorously defended himself during a half-hour speech Monday against charges that he said were based on coerced statements against him.

The Shiite-led government issued a warrant for al-Hashemi's arrest in December on charges that he paid his bodyguards to kill security officials and workers in Iraq's health and foreign ministries.

A judicial panel last week concluded that al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 attacks since 2005.

Al-Hashemi was speaking from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, where he has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish region.