Iraqi president not to sign death order for Saddam’s aide

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

PARIS - - Iraq’s president said he will not give his approval to a death sentence for Tariq Aziz, a former close aide to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

“No, I will not sign the death sentence for Tariq Aziz. I will not sign any death sentence - as a social democrat, I am opposed to that in principle,” Jalal Talabani told the France 24 television network in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

Talabani, who was re-elected last week to his post, said he “sympathised” with Aziz because the former aide “is an Iraqi Christian” and “he is an old man who is over 70″.

Talabani made the comments while in the French capital to attend a Socialist International meeting.

Aziz served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister under Saddam and was the most prominent member of the minority sect in the previous regime.

It remained unclear what the president’s decision would mean for Aziz, who is currently in prison. While Talabani has in the past refused to sign death orders, vice presidents have approved some executions in his place.

Saddam was hanged in 2006 - though the presidency did not approve the act - and in the years since, other members of his ruling inner circle have been executed.

The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal in Baghdad last month found Aziz guilty of persecution and efforts to “liquidate” Iraqi religious parties, particularly those of Shiite Muslims.

One such religious party was the Dawa, which is now led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who also spearheaded the Saddam hanging.

Rights groups have accused the court of having suffered from “political interference” during Aziz’s trial.

Aziz, a fluent English speaker and once the public face of Saddam’s regime, is 74 years old and suffered a stroke in January in a prison in Baghdad. He is believed to be in poor health.

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