Iraq 'could break up', warns Vice-President Hashemi
Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has told the BBC he fears the country could break up.
He said that policies being pursued by Nouri Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, were causing "sectarian polarisation" and violence.
Mr Hashemi fled Baghdad in December 2011 after allegations that he was implicated in political murders.
He has always denied the claims, which he says were based on confessions obtained through torture.
Mr Hashemi, who was the most senior Sunni politician in Iraq, insisted he was still Iraq's vice-president, even though he is wanted by the Iraqi authorities.
He has been living in internal exile in the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north of the country.
Speaking during a trip to Turkey, he said he had no intention of staying outside Iraq, and would be returning to Kurdistan soon.
But he said any immediate return to Baghdad was impossible, because he had no security there, and that the Iraqi capital was "quite inconvenient for me".
He accused the Iraqi prime minister of wanting to "regenerate the sectarian strife" that afflicted Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
He said Mr Maliki wanted to "divert the political process into some sort of autocratic regime".
He said the country was at a crossroads, and that urgent action had to be taken now to prevent it breaking up along sectarian and ethnic lines.
Mr Hashemi said that he was in discussion with Kurdish parties and the Shia parties loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and that a parliamentary alliance to topple Mr Maliki before elections scheduled for 2014 was possible.
Regarding the criminal investigation against him, he said Iraq's security services had tortured his bodyguards to obtain false confessions to back up claims he had ordered political bombings and assassinations.
He claimed that one of his bodyguards had been tortured to death while in detention.
He said the investigation against him was being conducted by Iraq's security apparatus rather than by judges, as it should normally be, and he insisted that he was "entirely innocent [of] all these allegations".
Mr Hashemi suggested that Iraq's Shia neighbour, Iran, was playing a sinister role in his country by interfering in its internal political affairs.