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Iraq vice president denies charges

Iraq's Sunni vice president wanted by the Shiite-led government for allegedly ordering hit squads against government officials has said he is innocent of any charges.

Tariq al-Hashemi told a press conference in the northern city of Irbil that he has not committed any "sin" against Iraq. He described the charges against him as "fabricated".

The announcement of the warrant against al-Hashemi has hiked tensions between Sunnis and Shiites just two days after the last US soldiers withdrew from the country.

Iraqi officials have accused al-Hashemi of running a hit squad that killed government officials. He is in Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and not in custody.

"I'm shocked with all these things," al-Hashemi told reporters in the televised news conference. "I swear by God that al-Hashemi didn't do any sin or anything wrong against any Iraqi whether today or tomorrow, and this my pledge to God."

He said the arrest warrant was a campaign to "embarrass" him. He blamed al-Maliki, although he did not say specifically what he believed the Shiite premier had or had not done.

"Al-Maliki is behind the whole issue. The country is in the hands of al-Maliki. All the efforts that had been exerted to reach national reconciliation and to unite Iraq are now gone. So yes, I blame al-Maliki," he said.

The Iraqi prime minister effectively runs the Ministry of Interior, where the charges originated. Iraqi officials have accused al-Hashemi of running a hit squad and state-run television aired what it said were confessions by men said to be working as bodyguards for al-Hashemi.

Al-Hashemi thanked Iraq's president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, for his support and said that Talabani promised he would be responsible for his security.

The vice president said security officials had come to his office and house and taken computers and documents. He said the staff working in his office were asked to turn in their badges and told to go home.

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