Middle East

Iraq's fugitive Sunni Hashemi leader leaves Qatar

Tariq al-Hashemi speaking on TV 25 March 2012
Image caption Tariq al-Hashemi is wanted in Iraq on terror charges

The fugitive Iraqi Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi, has left Qatar after a four-day visit which sparked a row with the rest of the Iraqi government.

Mr Hashemi is the most senior Sunni politician in the government, but fled to the autonomous Kurdish region after being accused of terrorism last year.

Qatar refused Iraqi demands to hand him over, saying such a move would be against diplomatic norms.

Reuters says he has now arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform a pilgrimage.

Mr Hashemi had told the Pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat during his stay in Qatar that he would go next to Saudi Arabia on his tour of "friendly states".

Like Qatar it has a Sunni government; they have both expressed concerns about Sunni interests in the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

On Monday Baghdad called for Mr Hashemi to be extradited, but Qatar refused, saying there was no court judgement to justify such a move.

The decision by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia, to issue an arrest warrant in December for Mr Hashemi brought the country's national unity government close to collapse, and sparked fears that sectarian unrest would increase.

The Iraqi government had been due to hold reconciliation talks with Sunni and Kurdish partners on Thursday, but Mr Maliki's opponents have refused to attend.

The BBC's Rami Ruhayem in Baghdad says it is now unclear whether the meeting will go ahead.