Saddam Hussein's foreign minister Tariq Aziz sentenced to death for persecution of Shiites

By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 7:09 PM

BAGHDAD - An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced Tariq Aziz, a senior member in Saddam Hussein's government, to death by hanging for the persecution of Shiites after the Gulf War, officials said.

The 74-year-old former foreign minister was the Hussein government's most prominent figure on the international stage and the only Christian in the former leader's inner circle.

His lawyer called the sentence a ploy by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to divert attention from recent revelations of widespread abuse of prison inmates by Iraqi security forces.

"This sentence is not fair and is politically motivated," attorney Badee Izzat Aref told the Associated Press in Amman, Jordan, where he is based.

Aziz did not appear to be represented by counsel during the sentencing hearing, which was broadcast on Iraqi TV stations. He wore a blue shirt in court and appeared feeble, nodding slightly as the judge spoke.

Presiding Judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan ran unsuccessfully for parliament earlier this year as a member of Maliki's State of Law coalition. His campaign posters said: "Those who wish to see the tyrants humiliated must vote for Judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan."

Members of the main bloc challenging Maliki's bid to remain in office said the timing of the sentence suggested that the prime minister could be using the courts to further his political goals.

"They have had several cases before in which the courts have been involved," Iraqiya coalition member Shaker Kitab said in an interview, referring to Maliki's slate.

The sentence was the latest to be handed down by a special tribunal empaneled after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to prosecute senior members of Hussein's regime.

Aziz was convicted of persecuting members of Shiite political parties, including al-Maliki's Dawa party. Hussein's government brutally quashed Shiite uprisings in southern Iraq in the early 1990s.

Aziz has 30 days to file an appeal. If the sentence is upheld, he will probably be hanged within a month.

Iraqi authorities have executed several senior members of the former regime. Hussein's execution in December 2006 was an embarrassment for the government after the dissemination of a video showing Shiite executioners taunting the deposed Sunni leader seconds before he was hanged.

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