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Saddam confidant sentenced to death

Saddam Hussein's foreign minister Tariq Aziz has been sentenced to death by hanging for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under the former regime.

Iraq's High Criminal Court spokesman Mohammed Abdul Sahib did not say when Aziz, 74, would be put to death.

The death sentence was for a conviction on charges of taking part in a Saddam-led campaign that hunted and executed members of the Shiite Dawa Party, of which current Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is a member.

Aziz, a Christian who became known as the international face of Saddam's regime, 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.

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

It was not immediately clear if Aziz's Jordan-based lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, will appeal the verdict.

"We are discussing this issue and what next step we should take," Aref said in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Aziz has 30 days to decide on launching an appeal, he said.

Aref questioned the timing of the death sentence. He said the court's decision was politically motivated and accused al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of trying to divert attention from recent WikiLeaks revelations of prisoners' abuse by Iraqi security forces and the U.S. military.

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

Aziz's son, Ziad, said 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.


From Belfast Telegraph