Saddam Hussein’s former deputy sentenced for involvement in killing of members of Shia parties after first Gulf war
by Martin Chulov in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein’s most powerful deputy, Tariq Aziz, is sentenced to death by an Iraqi court for his role in the killing of members of Shia Islamic religious parties after the first Gulf war Link to this video
Iraq‘s former face to the world, Tariq Aziz, has been sentenced to death by hanging after the country’s highest court condemned him for being personally involved in the persecution of Islamic opposition parties for more than 20 years.
Aziz was sentenced to death by Iraq’s high criminal court, along with four other stalwarts of the Ba’athist regime deposed by the US invasion in 2003. He had previously been sentenced to 22 years in jail for complicity in a bloody crackdown on merchants accused of price tampering, and a campaign against Kurds in Iraq’s north.
Aziz’s son, Ziad, reacted angrily to the sentence, claiming the court that convicted his father was a “theatrical performance” and that the sentence was politically motivated.
“None of the victims themselves accused him of any of the killings,” he said from Amman, Jordan, where he has remained in exile since 2003. “Not one person submitted any allegation, or made any claim against him. My father had been a victim of the Dawa party. They had tried to assassinate him during the 80s.
“This is just [prime minister] Maliki trying to avenge the WikiLeaks allegations.”
Tonight the Vatican urged Iraq not to carry out the sentence against Aziz – the only Christian in Saddam Hussein‘s inner circle – and said it would intervene diplomatically to try to halt the execution. The Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation in Iraq.
The death sentence was announced by state television within minutes of it being handed down after a two-month trial.
The charge against Aziz related mainly to persecution of members of the Dawa party, now part of the Baghdad establishment and led by Nouri al-Maliki. The PM is campaigning for a second term.
A spokesman for the court said Aziz had also been convicted of persecuting other Shia Islamic groups.
In an interview with the Guardian in August, his first since his surrender to US forces in 2003, Aziz claimed he had not been personally involved in any of the campaigns ordered by Saddam Hussein against his rivals and opposition groups. His stance amounted to a Nuremberg defence, mirroring the claims of senior Nazi leaders that they were only carrying out orders during the second world war.
“All decisions were taken by president Saddam Hussein,” Aziz said. “I held a political position, I did not participate in any of the crimes that were raised against me personally. Being a member of the government, I had a moral responsibility to defend the government,” he added.
Also condemned were one of Saddam’s half brothers, Sabani Ibrahim, his bodyguard, Abid Hamid Mahmoud, former Ba’athist interior minister Sadoon Shaker, and senior party member Hikmah al-Misbah. Another of Saddam’s half-brothers, Watban Ibrahim, got a custodial sentence.
The verdicts will be heard by an appeals court. If they are ratified, the condemned men will be hung within 30 days.
Despite his central role in Saddam’s regime, Aziz has maintained some popularity among Iraqis, many of whom do not directly associate him with his boss. He also retains some support in the Iraqi political establishment, with Maliki’s main rival Iyad Allawi, publicly acknowledging his friendship for the 74-year-old.
“Tell Tariq Aziz he is a good man and I think about him often,” Allawi told the Guardian before the prison interview.
Ziad Aziz said his father had not been legally represented for the past year, partly as a protest against his trials and continued imprisonment.
Tariq Aziz is expected to face more charges in the coming weeks. Now frail and heavily medicated, he spends much of each week in a holding cell in Baghdad’s green zone. He is returned to the Qadhimiyah prison in Baghdad’s north for weekends and on days when the court is not sitting.
The prison complex contains the execution room that hung Saddam Hussein in late-2006. The same gallows will hang Aziz if his appeals are exhausted.
A life of loyalty
Tariq Aziz was born in 1936 to a Chaldean Christian family in northern Iraq. He was christened Mikhail Yuhanna, but, as his affiliation with the Baa’th party grew, adopted the more Arabic sounding name throughout his life.
His influence in the Ba’ath party soared after it rose to power in the late-1960s. A decade later he was a member of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council. He stayed within Saddam’s inner sanctum for most of the next 35 years. The dictator uncharacteristically forgave Aziz for an indiscretion by his son Ziad in 2001. Apart from that, his record with Saddam was of slavish loyalty and mutual trust.
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