ERBIL, Jan. 31 (AKnews) - The Iraqi Interior Ministry has arrested 16 of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's bodyguards, some of whom confessed under interrogation to assassinating military personnel and civilians.

Tariq al-Hashemi

The Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant against Hashimi last month after the Interior Ministry presented the confessions of three of his bodyguards who said that they carried out assassinations under Hashimi's orders in 2006.

Hashimi and his protection team fled to Kurdistan Region the day before the an arrest warrant was issued against him on Dec 19, last year.

Hashimi said that the confessions were taken by force, casting doubt on the independence of the judiciary and called for the transfer of his case to the courts of the Kurdistan region, but Baghdad has refused his request.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said: "Hashimi's body guards carried out assassinations using silent guns and mainly targeted Interior Ministry officers and judges.

"The files of detainees will be added to the file of Hashimi's case."

The arrest warrant issued against Hashimi raised controversy in Iraq. Some expressed their fears that this step was taken by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to supress his political opponents, particularly after the submission of a request to the Council of Representatives to withdraw confidence from his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Hashimi and al-Mutlaq are prominent leaders in the Iraqiya party which is supported by the Sunnis, and has accused Maliki and his bloc more than once of marginalizing Iraqiya and excluding other parties in making decisions.

Senior officials, especially those from Kurdistan, are holding negotiations to end the country's crisis, which worsened in the days following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.