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U.S. hands over Tariq Aziz, other detainees to custody of Iraqi government

FILE - In this July 1, 2004 file photo cleared by the US military, Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister, appears in a courtroom at Camp Victory, a former Saddam palace on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's deputy justice minister says U.S. authorities have handed over 55 members of Saddam Hussein's former regime, including the longtime international face of the regime, Tariq Aziz. (AP Photo/Karen Ballard/Pool, File)
FILE - In this July 1, 2004 file photo cleared by the US military, Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister, appears in a courtroom at Camp Victory, a former Saddam palace on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's deputy justice minister says U.S. authorities have handed over 55 members of Saddam Hussein's former regime, including the longtime international face of the regime, Tariq Aziz. (AP Photo/Karen Ballard/Pool, File) (Karen Ballard - AP)

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By Leila Fadel
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; 2:27 PM

BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military transferred 26 officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, including his international representative Tariq Aziz, to the Iraqi government on Monday, the country's deputy justice minister and U.S. authorities said Wednesday.

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Three others were handed over last month and 26 about 10 months ago, said Busho Ibrahim, the deputy minister.

The announcement comes a day before the United States turns over the last American-run detention center to Iraqi control. U.S. military authorities will retain physical custody of about 200 people, including eight members of the former regime.

"We're holding on to them until the government gets formed," Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said in a briefing with reporters this week in reference to the eight former regime officials. He added that the eight are on death row.

Odierno said the U.S. military has been training Iraqi guards and preparing for the transfer of Camp Cropper for a year. About 1,700 detainees will come under Iraqi control when the transfer is complete Thursday.

The transfer comes as Iraq's justice system is struggling and its prisons are crowded. Detainees are sometimes abused and held months or even years without trial in both Interior and Defense ministry facilities, a State Department report on human rights in Iraq found in 2009. Last year, there were 505 confirmed instances of torture or abuse in Iraqi facilities.

One prisoner who will remain in U.S. custody for now is the former defense minister, Sultan Hashim al-Taie, who turned himself in to the U.S. military in 2003. He was sentenced to death in 2007, but the execution was never carried out despite demands by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he be turned over. Iraq's presidency council was opposed to the sentence.

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani has said that he would oppose Taie's execution because Taie was following orders under the threat of death and was said to have been willing to work against Hussein's regime.

Many of the other detainees being held by the U.S. military are considered among the most dangerous captives from al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups. U.S. authorities said the Iraqi government asked for their help with those still in American custody.

Aziz, the most high-profile of the men transferred in recent days, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for two crimes. The 74-year-old Aziz, who served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister and was widely known as the public face of Hussein's government, had a stroke earlier this year and is in poor health.

His family called the transfer an American death sentence.

"The Americans decided to kill him this way," said his son, Ziad Tariq Aziz. He said his father called from a prison in northwest Baghdad on Wednesday. "There is no doctor."

An International Committee of the Red Cross report on Aziz's health showed he was taking six medications, has trouble walking, needs to sit when he showers and shows signs of dementia. His son said he had none of his medication inside the Iraqi prison and didn't know what he was supposed to be taking because the U.S. detention facility had provided his care.

Ziad Tariq Aziz said he received assurances last week that his father would remain in American custody.

"We transfer detainees to the Government of Iraq at their request in accordance with the security agreement," Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the U.S. military's top spokesman in Iraq, said in a statement. "The Government of Iraq has and retains legal authority of all detainees. At the Government of Iraq's request, they have asked us to retain physical custody of some detainees."

Human rights organizations have long questioned the independence and the fairness of convictions from Iraq's High Tribunal, where members of the former regime were tried. It is unclear what the fate of Taie and the other men will be when the next government is formed and the U.S. military ultimately leaves at the end of 2011.


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