Tariq Aziz's trial to resume in Baghdad

The former Iraqi foreign affairs minister and international face of Saddam Hussein's regime is due back in court on Tuesday over the execution of 42 merchants, although his foreign legal team has not arrived in Baghdad yet.


Tareq Aziz, for years the international face of the brutal regime of hanged Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, is due back in the dock on Tuesday but without his team of foreign lawyers.

Aziz, 71, who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Saddam, faces charges linked to the execution of 42 Baghdad merchants in 1992 and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

His trial began in Baghdad last month but the first hearing was abruptly adjourned after Aziz said he wanted new lawyers because his Iraqi counsel Badie Izzat Aref was unable to attend for "security reasons."

The team of foreign lawyers who had agreed to defend Aziz will not be present in court on Tuesday as they were not granted visas to travel to Baghdad, his Amman-based son Ziad Aziz said.

They include French lawyer Jacques Verges, four Italian lawyers and a Lebanese-French attorney.

Aziz is being tried at the Baghdad court presided over by the same judge who sentenced Saddam to death for his role in the killing of 148 Shiite civilians after an assassination attempt against him in 1982.

Saddam was hanged on December 30, 2006. Aziz also faces the prospect of death by hanging or life in jail if convicted.

Aziz's lawyers had wanted the trial to be moved to Iraqi Kurdistan in the relatively quiet north of the country or to be transferred abroad to ensure it is not influenced by the Baghdad government.

He surrendered to US forces in April 2003 shortly after the invasion and stands accused, with seven others, of executing businessmen for hiking food prices at a time when Iraq was under tight UN economic sanctions.

Prosecutors have said that the victims were arrested in Baghdad's wholesale markets and executed after a speedy trial in 1992. They also charge that Saddam's regime then seized their money and property.

Aziz, Ali Hassan al-Majid -- otherwise known as Chemical Ali -- and Saddam's half-brother Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan are the most high profile of the eight defendants.

Aziz was born in Iraq's main northern city of Mosul to a Chaldean Catholic family. He changed his given name, Michael Yuhanna, to Tareq Aziz to prevent any Arab nationalist hostility to his Christian background.

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