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Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi gestures as he addresses the media in Ankara September 10, 2012.

UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS

The death sentence against the Vice-President of Iraq, Tareq al-Hashemi, shows Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to accept political power-sharing and mutual respect among Shiites, Sunnis and other religious communities.

Mr. al-Maliki took power as the result of a democratic election, but he has become increasingly dictatorial and heavily reliant on his support base among the Shiite majority.

Mr. al-Hashemi, a Sunni, was prosecuted as an alleged instigator of sectarian violence against Shiite neighbourhoods. After a warrant for his arrest was issued in December, 2011, he fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. In April, he left Iraq for Turkey. It is unlikely that the generally moderate Turkish government would have granted refuge to a terrorist.

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The exacerbation of sectarian conflict in Iraq is particularly dangerous because of the current civil war in Syria, which is partly a struggle among religious communities, and which has implications for the relative power of several countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey – with potential for a wider regional war.

Mr. al-Hashemi's earlier political career was in a party based on the Muslim Brotherhood. Later, he joined the Al-Iraqiya List, an alliance mostly but not only composed of Sunnis, both religious and secular, which was quite successfully led in the 2010 election by Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite.

A report in July by the International Crisis Group makes a persuasive case that Al-Iraqiya's tactics since that election have been poor, but at least it has offered Iraq the best chance for a broad non-sectarian coalition.

On Sunday, the day the sentence against Mr. al-Hashemi was announced, there was yet more murder and mayhem in Iraq.

Mr. al-Maliki is shortsighted. Power and a parliamentary majority can be achieved with the support of a religious majority (the Shiites are about 60- 65 per cent of the population). But a government that acts in the narrow interests of that majority will not bring peace, stability or unity to Iraq. Mr. Al-Maliki's opponents, including Mr. al-Hashemi, should be treated fairly.

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