Middle East

Tariq Aziz, Iraqi ex-minister, sentenced to death

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Media captionTariq Aziz's son, Ziad, said his father is a victim

Tariq Aziz, for many years the international face of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, has been sentenced to death by the Iraqi Supreme Court.

He was convicted in connection with the persecution of religious parties, a statement said.

Aziz, 74, served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister and was a close adviser to Saddam Hussein.

He has been previously convicted for his role in the execution of dozens of merchants for profiteering.

Aziz is reported to be seriously ill.

"The supreme criminal court issued an execution order against Tariq Aziz for his role in eliminating religious parties," Iraqi state television reported.

Officials said two other defendants in the case were also sentenced to death - former interior minister Sadoun Shakir and former private secretary to Saddam Hussein, Abed Hamoud.

Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, crushed all attempts to establish rival political groups in the 1980s and 1990s. He particularly targeted Shia Muslim parties, including the Dawa party of which current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member.

Aziz's lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, told the Associated Press that the verdict was "politically motivated".

He said no decision about an appeal had been made yet.

"We are discussing this issue and what next step we should take," he said.

Mr Aref, who is based in the Jordanian capital Amman, accused the Iraqi government of trying to divert attention from recent Wikileaks revelations which alleged that Iraqi forces had tortured prisoners.


The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says there is a visceral hatred felt by the current holders of power in Iraq towards Saddam Hussein's regime.

However, many in Iraq do not see Aziz - who is a Christian - as one of Saddam's evil insiders and a lobby could spring up to prevent him being sent to the gallows, our correspondent adds.

Court spokesman Mohammed Abdul Sahib did not say when the death sentences would be carried out.

As well as the right of appeal, the sentences must be confirmed by the presidential council.

Aziz's son, Ziad Aziz, who lives in Amman, told the BBC he had expected the verdict but insisted his father was innocent of the charges.

"They want to kill everybody who belonged to the ex-government," he said.

"He was a politician, he dealt with the media. He didn't deal with security."

The Vatican has also protested against the death sentence and called for clemency.

Spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Church always opposed the death penalty, and that sparing Aziz's life would "foster reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after great suffering".

Tariq Aziz surrendered to US troops in 2003 shortly after the fall of Baghdad.

In March 2009, he was jailed for 15 years for the executions of 42 Iraqi merchants. Five months later, he was sentenced to seven years' further imprisonment for his role in the forced displacement of Kurds.

In an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian in August, he staunchly defended Saddam Hussein, saying "history will show he served his country".

He also criticised US President Barack Obama over the planned withdrawal of US troops, saying he was "leaving Iraq to the wolves".

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