Saddam aide Tariq Aziz sentenced to hang

Aziz was sentenced for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under Saddam`s regime.

Baghdad: Saddam Hussein`s long-time foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was sentenced to death by hanging Tuesday for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under the former regime.

Iraqi High Tribunal spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Sahib did not say when Aziz, 74, would be put to death.

Aziz has 30 days to launch an appeal. If the Appeals` Court upholds the death sentence, the law says Aziz should be hung within 30 days of the final decision. The Iraqi president also needs to sign off on an execution order.

Aziz, a Christian who became the international face of Saddam`s regime, was in court on Tuesday. He was wearing a blue suit and sat alone, bowing his head and frequently grasping the handrail in front of him, as the judge read out the verdict.

It was not immediately clear if Aziz`s Jordan-based lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, will appeal the verdict, which he called politically motivated.

"We are discussing this issue and what next step we should take," Aref said in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Aziz has already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering. He also received a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.

Aref questioned the timing of the death sentence, accusing al-Maliki`s Shiite-led government of trying to divert attention from recent WikiLeaks revelations of prisoners` abuse by Iraqi security forces and the US military.

"This sentence is not fair and it is politically motivated," he said.

Aziz predicted in a recent interview that he will die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences.

Aziz`s son, Ziad, said that the death sentence was "unfair" and "illogical". He said his father was the victim, not the criminal, since Dawa Party members tried to assassinate him in 1980.

"This is an illogical and an unfair sentence that is serving political goals of the Iraqi government," Ziad said in an interview Tuesday. "Tariq Aziz himself was the victim of the religious parties that tried to kill him in 1980, but now he is turned into a criminal."

Aziz surrendered to US forces about a month after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He was held at an American prison in Baghdad until the US handed over control of the facility in July to the Iraqi government.

When Aziz was transferred from US to Iraqi custody, his family said they were worried about his health in Baghdad`s Kazimiyah prison, where Aziz is now being held. He has suffered several strokes while in Iraqi custody. He used a cane for support during recent court appearances.

A fluent English speaker and the only Christian in the senior leadership of Saddam`s mainly Sunni regime, Aziz became internationally known as the dictator`s defender and a fierce critic of the United States both as foreign minister after Iraq`s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and later as a deputy prime minister who frequently travelled abroad on diplomatic missions.

Bureau Report