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Bodyguard testifies in terror trial

BAGHDAD — A bodyguard for Iraq’s fugitive vice president testified Tuesday that he was paid $3,000 to assassinate a government security official in one of hundreds of death squad killings that authorities link to one of the nation’s highest-ranking Sunni leaders.

The testimony came on the first day of the Iraqi government’s terror trial against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who was not in court.

He denies the charges - that for years he ordered killings of Shiite pilgrims and government officials - and says they are politically motivated.

The case against Mr. al-Hashemi threatens to paralyze Iraq’s government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who critics claim is monopolizing power.

The Sunni vice president has been a longtime critic of Mr. Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for Mr. al-Hashemi’s arrest the day after U.S. troops left Iraq last December.

Bodyguard Ahmed al-Jubouri testified that he gunned down the security official, identified as Ibrahim Saleh Mahdi, in November 2011 on Mr. al-Hashemi’s orders.

Mr. al-Jubouri said Mahdi’s wife also was killed in the drive-by shooting on a Baghdad highway.

“The next day, al-Hashemi received me [in his office] and rewarded the team with a sum of $3,000,” Mr. al-Jubouri told a three-judge panel at Baghdad’s criminal court. “At the end of the meeting, the vice president said to me, ‘God bless you.’ “

From wire dispatches and staff reports