(BAGHDAD) -- The Iraqi government Tuesday began the trial of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is accused of running death squads that have allegedly killed dozens of Shiite officials.
Al-Hashemi, on the lam since being indicted last December, is believed to have taken refuge in Turkey for medical treatment.
Despite his absence, prosecutors called former bodyguards of the country's highest-ranking Sunni leader to the witness stand to deliver testimony against their old boss.
Some of the witness accused al-Hashemi of ordering the murders of up to 150 people.
Former bodyguard Ahmed Shawqi told the court that the Iraqi vice president "asked me to plant a car bomb near Buratha mosque, and I carried out the operation."
Al-Hashemi and his Sunni supporters maintain the charges are politically motivated and are an attempt by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to consolidate power as he tries to marginalize Sunnis and Kurds.
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