DUBAI - Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite government of waging a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs in Iraq.
In an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network aired late on Wednesday, Hashemi said the accusations against him of running a death squad "have a sectarian dimension," noting that he is the "fifth Sunni figure to be targeted" by Iraq's Shiite-led government.
"More than 90 percent of the detainees in Iraq are Sunnis," said Hashemi, who pledged to return to Iraq to carry out his vice presidential duties despite Maliki's demands for him to face trial.
Hashemi sharply criticised Maliki, saying that "corruption in the country is widespread" and warning that the prime minister's policies were threatening "the unity of Iraq."
Hashemi also alleged that Maliki's government is providing "military assistance" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, arguing that his support for Syria's leadership, which he has previously accused of funding terrorism, is motivated by sectarian considerations.
"There is information about Iraqi militias fighting alongside the Syrian regime," Hashemi told Al-Jazeera. There are also "unconfirmed reports that Iraq's airspace is being used to help (Assad's) regime," he added, hinting at Iranian involvement.
Maliki has rejected attempts by Sunni-led Gulf Arab states to arm Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, arguing that such a move will trigger an even bigger crisis in the region.
The Syrian uprising has raised regional sectarian tensions.
Syria's minority rulers are Alawites -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- who are trying to cling to power by brutally suppressing anti-regime protests led by the country's majority Sunnis.
In Iraq, a Shiite-dominated government has ruled over the minority Sunni Arabs since the 2003 US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.
Hashemi spoke to Al-Jazeera in Doha during a controversial four-day visit that sparked a wave of criticism by Iraq's Shiite leadership, which demanded that Qatar extradite the fugitive leader.
Qatar rejected Baghdad's request, saying it violated "diplomatic norms."
Hashemi travelled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, where he met Prince Saud al-Faisal, the kingdom's foreign minister.
He has said he would return to Iraq's northern autonomous Kurdistan, which he fled to in December.