Court sentences Iraqi ex-minister Tariq Aziz to death
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An Iraqi court sentenced one of Saddam Hussein's most prominent officials, former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz (pictured) to death Tuesday, sparking criticism from family members and a Vatican plea to halt the execution.
Tariq Aziz, the bespectacled Iraqi diplomat who was the international face of Saddam Hussein’s regime for several decades, was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court Tuesday.
The former Iraqi deputy prime minister, who previously served as the country’s long time foreign minister, was convicted for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties, according to a court statement.
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, Iraqi High Tribunal spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Sahib did not say when Aziz would be put to death.
Under Iraqi law, Aziz has 30 days to launch an appeal and the sentence must be confirmed by the presidential council.
Aziz, an Iraqi Christian who majored in English literature and was a journalist before entering politics, was a familiar face on the international scene, meeting world leaders and defending Saddam Hussein’s foreign policy exploits – notably the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait - at international forums.
Wearing a blue suit, Aziz was present in court Tuesday during the reading of the verdict. The 74-year-old former Iraqi politician, who is reportedly in ill health, sat alone in the court with his head bowed and frequently grasped the handrail before him.
‘Shocked to hear the verdict,’ says daughter
Speaking to FRANCE 24 from the Jordanian capital of Amman, where she currently lives, Aziz’s daughter Zaineb Tariq Aziz said the family was surprised by the news.
“We were quite shocked to hear the verdict. We had no prior notice that the verdict was coming out today,” she said.
Zaineb maintained that her father was innocent of all charges. “He had nothing to do with the internal affairs (of Iraq under Saddam’s reign). As you know, he was the foreign minister for a long time. His work was in foreign affairs and he had nothing to do with the internal affairs.”
Tuesday’s verdict also came as a surprise to Aziz’s lawyer Badee Aref. In an interview with Al Jazeera TV, Aref said that, “before the court passes any death sentences it informs us a month before the date of the sentence. They didn't this time.”
It was not immediately clear if Aref would appeal the verdict. In an interview with the Associated Press, Aref said he was “discussing this issue and what next step we should take.”
Aziz’s lawyer and family maintain that the verdict is politically motivated and that the current Shiite politicians in power in Iraq have a visceral hatred toward Aziz.
Vatican urges Iraq to halt execution
Born in 1936 near Mosul into an Iraqi Assyrian Christian family, Aziz was the most politically prominent Christian member of Saddam’s regime.
In 2003, shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, Aziz surrendered to US forces. At that time he was ranked 43 on the list of the 55 most wanted Iraqi senior officials.
Reacting to the verdict Tuesday, the Vatican urged Iraq to not carry out the death sentence. Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the Associated Press that the Vatican hoped the sentence would not be carried out. He said commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of peace and justice in Iraq.
The former Iraqi politician was held at an American prison in Baghdad until the US handed over control of the facility in July to the Iraqi government.
Aziz has already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering. He also received a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.