Tariq Aziz sentenced to death
The international face of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, his deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, was sentenced yesterday to hang for murdering and torturing members of the opposition and religious parties.
Aziz (74) was found guilty of masterminding a purge of opposition parties in the 1980s. Among those killed was the founder of the Dawa Party, now led by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Aziz became known as the urbane and kindly public face of Saddam's regime in the lead-up to the first Gulf War in 1991 and the allied invasion of 2003.
Although not regarded as a member of Saddam's inner circle, he sat on the Revolutionary Command Council, the Ba'ath cabinet, from 1977.
He was the Eight of Spades in the pack of cards issued by American forces in April, 2003, carrying pictures of the 55 most wanted members of Saddam's regime.
He denied he had committed crimes against "any civilian, military or religious man" and said he was being accused through "guilt by association". All decisions were Saddam's alone, he maintained.
The court, the Iraqi High Tribunal in Baghdad, disagreed. "After sufficient evidence against Tariq Aziz that he committed and participated in deliberate murder and crimes against humanity, the court decided to issue the death sentence," said the judge, Mahmoud Saleh al-Hasan.
Television pictures showed Aziz, wearing a blue suit, sitting in the dock with head bowed and grasping a handrail.
He was accused of a share in the responsibility for a purge of Shia opposition groups during the 1980-88 war with Iran. Iraq, like Iran, is a majority Shia Muslim country but Saddam and his elite were almost exclusively Sunni.
Aziz's son, Ziad, was quick to accuse the trial of being political. "The decision was an act of revenge against anybody and anything related to the past," he said.
Last night, the Vatican urged Iraq not to carry out the sentence on Aziz, who was born a Roman Catholic. Fr Federico Lombardi, a spokesman, said commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of peace and justice in Iraq.
Aziz handed himself in to the allies in April, 2003, after they took Baghdad, in return for safe passage out of the country for Ziad and other members of his family. At the time, there was speculation that Aziz had also been supplying information before the invasion to the CIA. He was sentenced last year to 15 years for his role in the killing of 42 merchants in 1992.
Aziz is entitled to appeal, a process expected to last months, and he has previously said he expects to die of ill-health in prison. If the appeal court upholds the death sentence, the law says Aziz should be hanged within 30 days of the final decision.
Also sentenced to death were two other Saddam henchmen -- Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam's closest aide and the Ace of Diamonds in the pack of cards, and Saadoun Shaker, the former interior minister.
Iraq has executed a number of members of Saddam's regime, including 'Chemical Ali' al-Majid, Saddam's cousin, who earned his nickname for atrocities such as the deaths of an estimated 5,000 Kurds in a gas attack in 1988. Saddam was hanged in December, 2006.
Human rights groups attacked the sentence. "It is time the Iraqi government turned the page on this grim cycle and one step towards this would be to end all executions," said Amnesty International. (© Daily Telegraph, London)