Iraqi Baathist minister sentenced to death

By our Arab Affairs correspondent

TARIQ AZIZ, Iraqi foreign minister in the deposed Saddam Hussein government, has been sentenced to death by a puppet regime court in Baghdad. Aziz, who comes from the Iraqi Christian community, was accused of responsibility in the deadly persecution of Shia Muslim leaders during the Saddam era.

Two other Saddam officials were also condemned to death at the trial — the latest move by a puppet government dominated by sectarian Shia politicians determined to settle old scores with their Baath party enemies.

Aziz surrendered to the invading Americans after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 and he has been in prison ever since. He was jailed for 15 years in 2009 for his alleged role in the execution of 42 merchants charged with profiteering and manipulating the food market in 1992 and a further seven years for complicity in expelling Kurds from areas in northern Iraq.

Amnesty International and the Vatican have both called on the Iraqi authorities to show clemency to the 74-year-old former Baathist leader, who suffers from heart disease. Whether he gets it is another matter.

The sentence is “unreasonable, irrational and wrong” Aziz’s defence lawyer says, accusing the court of timing the sentence to divert attention away from the latest WikiLeaks exposure of human rights abuses committed by the puppet regime and the US army of occupation. Badi Aref told the media that: “It is an invalid sentence from both legal and ethical perspectives. I don’t recognise this court because it sentenced Saddam Hussein to death and all the decisions it took are void because they are based on murder and assassination.”

Tariz Aziz’s daughter, who lives in exile in Jordan, defended her father’s role. “My father served his country for more than 22 years. He delivered himself to the US Army because he wasn’t afraid. He didn’t do anything wrong. He served his country,” Zainab Aziz declared.

“He has been wronged,” she said. “He feels that way and we feel that way because we know he didn’t do anything wrong, he only served his country as a foreign minister and that didn’t include anything of these bloody crimes he’s been tried for right now,” she argued.

“I think it’s very unfair,” Zainab said. She said her father had little expectation that an appeal would help. “I don’t think he has any hope of coming out” of prison.

”He doesn’t have any hope, but he is really happy that we are ok, that we are doing fine,” she said. “That is his only consolation”.

Tariq Aziz has 30 days to appeal and the court can take up to a further 30 days to consider it. But his lawyer is pessimistic about the ultimate fate of his client.

Badi Aref said: “Mr Aziz used to always tell me, ‘They’ll find a way to kill me, and there is no way for me to escape this’.”