|Because Hussein traveled rarely, Tariq Aziz often represented Iraq at the United Nations and other global settings.|
Top Hussein aide sentenced to death
Appeal could stall execution indefinitely
BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, a former top aide to Saddam Hussein and his urbane public relations representative to the world, was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court yesterday, convicted of crimes against members of rival Shi’ite political parties.
The sentence was handed down in the latest in a series of criminal cases brought against Aziz, 74, and other top figures in what had been Hussein’s government.
For years, Aziz, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, served as the bespectacled face of that government, a cigar-smoking emissary who sought to justify, in fluent English, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, invasion of oil-rich Kuwait, and killings of Shi’ites and Kurds.
Because Hussein rarely left Iraq out of fears for his safety, Aziz often represented Iraq at the United Nations and other global settings, serving as a public defender of Hussein before the US-led invasion of 2003.
Aziz surrendered to US 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 Hussein era. He was handed over to Iraqi jailers this year as Americans transferred security powers to Iraq and withdrew US combat troops.
Aziz’s death sentence followed convictions on charges of persecution against members of the religious Shi’ite Dawa Party, whose members include Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
It was unclear when Aziz would be executed, if ever.
One of his lawyers, Badea Araf Azzit, said he was considering an 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 US war records that described widespread prisoner abuse by Iraqi guards and security forces. “It is a political judgment,’’ Azzit said.
Aziz’s lawyers have long maintained he was responsible only for Iraq’s diplomatic and political relations and had no ties to the executions and purges carried out by Hussein’s Ba’athist government. Hussein was hanged in 2006, less than two months after his death sentence had been handed down.
Aziz’s son Ziad, 44, said he believes his father was blindsided by the news. When they spoke on the phone three days earlier, the elder Aziz asked his son to send him clothes, food, and medicine and did not mention that sentencing was imminent.
“We don’t know the next step,’’ Ziad Aziz said. “We have no chance of protecting him.’’
Ziad Aziz said his father remains in poor health. In January, the US military said in a statement that he had a blood clot in the brain. He was taken to a US military hospital north of Baghdad for treatment.
In March 2009, Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity, but he was acquitted earlier that month on charges of ordering a 1999 crackdown against Shi’ite protesters after a revered Shi’ite cleric was assassinated.
He is also serving a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.
Death sentences were handed down yesterday against other former officials in Hussein’s government including Abed Hammoud, a former secretary, and former interior minister Sadoun Shakir.
In the northern city of Kirkuk yesterday, gunmen armed with hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades staged an audacious evening robbery on the city’s largest gold market, killing 10 people — at least six of them police officers — and wounding 15 others. It was part of a string of deadly and coordinated robberies against Iraqi merchants.
Farther north, the political gamesmanship over who will control Iraq’s new government continued. Former prime minister Ayad Allawi traveled to Erbil to meet with the Kurdish region’s president, Massoud Barzani, whose support is likely to be critical in breaking the deadlock.
The Kurds emerged as political kingmakers after March elections failed to produce a clear winner, precipitating a deadlock between Maliki’s Shi’ite coalition and the group led by Allawi, which narrowly won the most seats in Parliament.