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Saddam's Deputy Tariq Aziz Sentenced to Die


Tariq Aziz (L), former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister speaks to the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, 05 Sep 2010

Tariq Aziz (L), former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister speaks to the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, 05 Sep 2010

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has been sentenced to death for persecuting religious parties in the 1980s. Aziz, one of the most prominent figures of the Saddam Hussein era, is expected to appeal the verdict.

Aziz was found guilty of repressing members of the Dawa party, the Shi'ite group which claims current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a member.

No date was given for his execution by hanging. Aziz had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Presiding official Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan said the court will consider an appeal, a process lawyers must start within 30 days.

Four other Saddam-era officials were also sentenced to death, including former Interior Minister Sadoun Shakir and Saddam's secretary Abed Hamoud.

A Christian among the many Sunnis in Saddam's secular government, Aziz also served as deputy prime minister. He was viewed by many as less brutal and more urbane than others in Saddam's inner circle, where cruelty was legendary. He surrendered to the U.S. authorities shortly after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and was transferred to Iraqi custody earlier this year.

Aziz is already serving prison terms for the forced displacement of Kurds and his role in the state's execution of 42 merchants in 1992.

Despite being the international face of the former regime, Aziz has long maintained he was simply a loyalist of the Saddam government. That sentiment was echoed Tuesday on the streets of Baghad.

School teacher Muna Sami said Aziz had done no harm to the Iraqi people and had been receiving orders from those above him.

Civil servant Ali Kahlaf strongly disagreed about the former official's culpability.

Kahlaf argued that Aziz should have been executed "a long time ago."

Lawyers for the former foreign minister questioned the timing of the sentence, contending it was an attempt to divert attention from the Iraqi government's troubles. The ruling comes just days after the whistleblowing group Wikileaks released classified U.S. documents implicating current Iraqi authorities in torture and other abuse.

The sentence also serves as a reminder of the repression of Shi'ites under the Sunni Saddam at a time of renewed sectarian concerns. Prime Minister Maliki is trying to form a new government mainly of Shi'ite parties, while his rival, fellow Shi'ite Ayad Allawi, has the backing of minority Sunnis.

Some legal experts had argued Iraq should have deferred to an international tribunal for Saddam-era crimes, to avoid possible political influences on the rulings.

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