QALACHWALAN, Iraq — The Iraqi Sunni vice president wanted by the Shiite-led government on terrorism charges said Monday that a demand he be turned over for trial in Baghdad hurts efforts to end the country's political crisis.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is staying in the semiautonomous northern Kurdish region, out of reach of state security forces. He is accused by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government of running a hit squad that assassinated government officials — a charge he denies.
The dispute over al-Hashemi plunged Iraq's government into chaos just as the last American troops were leaving in December. The political crisis has been accompanied by a rise in bomb attacks targeting Shiites that have killed dozens in recent weeks. Two pilgrims were killed Monday.
Iraq's interior ministry, which al-Maliki controls, on Sunday formally called on the Kurdish authorities to turn the vice president over for prosecution. They have so far not agreed to do so.
Al-Hashemi criticized that demand during an interview in the Kurdish town of Qalachwalan, where he is staying as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
"This shows that al-Maliki lacks credibility, because at the same time he is talking about defusing tensions, he is aggravating the situation by sending this request," al-Hashemi said. "This new move ... will hurt efforts to defuse the current political tension."
Al-Hashemi repeated his concern that he cannot get a fair trial in Baghdad, where he said security forces linked to al-Maliki exert considerable influence over the justice system. Confessions by his accusers taken in Baghdad were likely coerced, he alleged.
Al-Hashemi also said his security in the capital cannot be guaranteed, because bodyguards assigned to protect him have been discharged and had their weapons confiscated.
"I have no protection for myself if I decided to go back to Baghdad," he said.
Instead, he wants to have the case heard in the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk. There, he can get a fairer trial and his security will be ensured, he said.
Shortly before al-Hashemi's arrest warrant was issued, state-run television aired what it said were confessions by men said to be working as his bodyguards. They said they killed Baghdad police officers and officials working in the health and foreign ministries in exchange for payoffs from al-Hashemi.
The hits allegedly began during the height of the war in 2006 and 2007, when widespread violence between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites pitted neighbors against neighbors and killed thousands of Iraqi civilians.
In the Baghdad suburb of Awairij on Monday, police and hospital officials said a roadside bomb killed two Shiite pilgrims walking to the holy Shiite city of Karbala to commemorate Arbaeen, the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure.
It was the latest in a wave of attacks targeting Shiites that have killed more than 80 people in less than a week and deepened fears of renewed sectarian fighting.
Also Monday, an al-Qaida front group in Iraq claimed responsibility for a November bombing inside Baghdad's Green Zone, a heavily protected area in the center of the Iraqi capital. Al-Maliki has described the Green Zone bombing near parliament as an assassination attempt against him.
The claim of responsibility by the Sunni militants said the suicide attack was targeting "the head of the Iranian project in Iraq," an apparent reference to al-Maliki and the ties of Iraqi Shiites to Shiite-majority Iran. The statement said the attack failed because the car exploded prematurely.
"A hero driving a car bomb was able to penetrate all security measures in the Green Zone," said the statement in the name of the Islamic State of Iraq. "The operation was not completed due to a technical problem and the car exploded while parked at the entrance of the parliament."
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.