BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, a former top aide to Saddam Hussein, was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Tuesday for crimes against members of rival Shiite political parties.
The ruling was the latest in a series of criminal cases against Mr. Aziz, 74, whose frequent media appearances and travels abroad made him the bespectacled face of Mr. Hussein’s regime. For years, Mr. Aziz served as a staunch and public defender of Mr. Hussein before the American-led invasion of 2003.
Because Mr. Hussein rarely left Iraq out of fears about his safety, Mr. Aziz represented Iraq in the diplomatic world. He surrendered to American forces shortly after the invasion, aware that, for Americans, he was among Iraq’s most hunted officials and one of the best known emblems of the Saddam Hussein era.
Mr. Aziz’s death sentence stemmed from charges of persecution against members of the religious Shiite Dawa Party, which counts Iraq’s current prime minister, Nuri Kamal-al Maliki, among its members.
It was unclear when Mr. Aziz would be executed.
One of Mr. Aziz’s lawyers, Badea Araf Azzit, said he was considering whether to appeal. He dismissed the sentence as a ploy aimed at distracting attention from Iraq’s political stalemate and the recent publication of a trove of American war records that described widespread prisoner abuse by Iraqi guards and security forces.
“It is a political judgment,” Mr. Azzit said.
Mr. Aziz’s lawyers have long claimed he was only responsible for Iraq’s diplomatic and political relations, and had no ties to the executions and purges carried out by Mr. Hussein’s Baathist government. Mr. Hussein was himself hanged in 2006, less than two months after his death sentence was handed down.
Mr. Aziz’s lawyer said he remained in poor health. In January, the American military said in a statement that he suffered a blood clot in the brain. He was taken to an American military hospital north of Baghdad for treatment.
In March 2009, Mr. Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity, but he was acquitted earlier that year on charges of ordering a 1999 crackdown against Shiite protesters after a revered Shiite cleric was assassinated.
He is also serving a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, he predicted he would die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences.
Death sentences were also handed down on Tuesday against other former officials in Mr. Hussein’s government including Abed Hammoud, a former secretary to Mr. Hussein, and former Interior Minister Sadoon Shaker.
Under Mr. Hussein, Mr. Aziz cultivated a reputation as a cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking, worldly diplomat who used his official posts to justify the invasion of Kuwait, the efforts to obscure Mr. Hussein’s weapons program, the mass killings of Kurds and Shiites in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the use of chemical weapons at the Kurdish town of Halabja, among other things.
Only weeks before the American-led invasion in 2003, he had an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, one of dozens of encounters with world leaders.
When he surrendered to American troops in his hometown, Mosul, in northern Iraq, he apparently did so for his own safety in the face of mobs hunting down officials of the ousted government.
He was No. 43, and the eight of spades, on the Pentagon’s ”pack of cards” listing the 55 most wanted officials of Mr. Hussein’s government. American officials said that, after his surrender, Mr. Aziz offered to testify against Mr. Hussein on the condition that he be released early, a proposition eventually rejected by an Iraqi court and its American advisers.
Source: The New York Times, October 26, 2010