Top Saddam Ally Tariq Aziz Sentenced To Death

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One of Saddam Hussein's top lieutenants has been sentenced to death for persecuting Iraqi Shiites. Tariq Aziz, who gave himself up to American forces shortly after the 2003 invasion, was Iraq's longtime foreign minister and deputy prime minister, and Saddam's chief envoy to the international community.


The man who was, for much of the world, the face of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was sentenced to death today. Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam's top deputies received the sentence after being convicted of involvement in the killing of Shiite militants who opposed the regime.

NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad.

KELLY MCEVERS: The verdict was issued by the high criminal court of Iraq and read out on state TV.

(Soundbite of TV broadcast)

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

MCEVERS: Chief judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hasan sentenced Aziz to death by hanging. Seventy-four-year-old Aziz looked tired and frail at the court. He wore headphones to amplify the judge's verdict. In recent months he suffered a series of strokes.

Aziz's relatives say the verdict was politically motivated. The sentence was for involvement in killing members of the Shiite Dawa Party. Iraq's current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and several of his top officials are members of the Dawa Party. Aziz had been sentenced to years in prison for other crimes, including the forced displacement of Kurds from northern Iraq and 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. Here he is on ABC's "Nightline."

(Soundbite of show, "Nightline")

Mr. TARIQ AZIZ (Former Deputy, Saddam Hussein Regime): The whole issue of weapons of mass destruction is a hoax. 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.

MCEVERS: After the Americans did attack in March 2003, Aziz surrender 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 says they haven't yet decided how they'll proceed.

In recent interviews, Aziz has 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.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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