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Saddam Hussein's Aide Sentenced To Death

An Iraqi court has sentenced Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's longtime foreign minister, to death by hanging for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under the former regime. Aziz, shown in 2004, has 30 days to appeal the death sentence. Karen Ballard/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Karen Ballard/AFP/Getty Images

The man who was the international face of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was sentenced to death Tuesday for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under the former regime.

The verdict against Tariq Aziz, Saddam's longtime foreign minister, was issued by the high criminal court of Iraq and read out on state TV.

Chief Judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan sentenced Aziz, 74, to death by hanging. Aziz looked tired and frail at the court. He wore headphones to amplify the judge's verdict. He has suffered a series of strokes in recent months.

Iraq's high criminal court spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Sahib did not say when Aziz would be put to death.

The sentence was for involvement in killing members of the Shiite Dawa party, of which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and several of his top officials are members.

Aziz, a Christian, had been sentenced to prison for other crimes, including seven years for the forced displacement of Kurds from northern Iraq, and 15 years for the killing of merchants who fixed food prices during the 1990s, when Iraq was under U.N. sanctions.

Later, in the run-up to the Iraq war, Aziz made international appeals to stop the invasion.

"The whole issue of weapons of mass destruction is a hoax," he said on ABC's Nightline. "It has been used as a pretext in order to wage a war against Iraq. When they find that there are no weapons of mass destruction, they will use another pretext to attack."

After the U.S. attack in March 2003, Aziz surrendered to U.S. troops. The U.S. held him until early this year, then turned him over to Iraqi custody.

Aziz has 30 days to appeal the death sentence. His lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, says they haven't yet decided how they will proceed.

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

Aziz predicted in a recent interview with the AP that he will die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences. He also admitted to being a key player in Saddam's apparatus, but he denied any personal responsibility for the deaths of Shiites, Kurds or merchants. Those decisions, he said, were up to one man: Saddam.

Aziz's son, Ziad, told the AP 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.

NPR's Kelly McEvers contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press