Former Iraqi minister sentenced to hang for killing

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BAGHDAD – Iraq’s former culture minister, believed to be in hiding since last year, has been sentenced to death by hanging for involvement in the killing of another politician’s two sons, a court spokesman said on Friday.

A Baghdad court found former minister Asaad al-Hashemi responsible in absentia for the 2005 deaths of secular Sunni politician Mithal al-Alusi’s two sons, said Abdul Satar Birqadr, a spokesman for Iraq’s High Judicial Council.

“We issued a subpoena in the official newspaper, but he didn’t attend the court proceedings. No one representing him did either,” he said.

Hashemi, who was a member of Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, became part of Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government in 2006.

He is believed to have fled Iraq or gone into hiding after the bloc pulled out of the government in a row over power sharing in 2007.

A fellow Sunni Arab politician saw political motives in the conviction and said it was unfair.

“He should have been given the chance to defend himself,” said Abdul-Kareem al-Samarrai, a prominent figure in the Accordance bloc.

Last month, the bloc rejoined Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government in a step seen as a breakthrough for national reconciliation after five years of bloodshed.

Samarrai said the ruling was an effort to embarrass the bloc and “to put pressure on the Accordance Front and influence its followers after it returned to the government.”

(Reporting by Wisam Mohammed and Khalid al-Ansary; editing by Tony Austin)

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