Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Tariq Aziz's Death Sentence Could Drive a Wedge into Iraqi Politics

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Tariq Aziz's Death Sentence Could Drive a Wedge into Iraqi Politics

Article excerpt

Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's right-hand man, has been sentenced to hang in a move some see as politically motivated - and thus one that could further delay a new government.

Iraqis thirsting for vengeance as much as justice welcomed the death sentence Tuesday of one of Saddam Hussein's best-known officials, Tariq Aziz.

"The men of the former regime were all criminals - they killed many Iraqis and it is about time to taste what the people were suffering," says Kareem Ahmed Jassim, a retired government employee playing cards at a coffee shop in central Baghdad.

But some politicians condemned the sentencing of the former deputy prime minister as a politically motivated move that could drive even more of a wedge into efforts to form a new government.

The judge who handed down the sentence, Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan, ran unsuccessfully for parliament as part of the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A major part of the trial was related to main targets of Mr. Hussein's campaign against Islamic parties - including the Shiite Dawa Party of Mr. Maliki.

"We believe that the sentences announced today are intended to serve the interests of nominating al-Maliki for the prime minister's position," says Maysoon al-Damluji from the rival Iraqya bloc, a secular coalition with strong Sunni support. She says the sentence was also aimed at diverting attention from leaked US military documents linking Maliki's office to secret prisons and other abuses.

More than seven months after Iraqis went to the polls in national elections, Maliki is struggling to win enough support to lead a coalition government.

International criticism of tribunal

Mr. Aziz, who also served as foreign minister, is best known as the international face of the regime. A fluent English speaker, he was the only high-ranking Christian in Hussein's circle.

The high tribunal ruled that Aziz was guilty of crimes of humanity related to murder, torture, and forced exile of members of Islamic parties opposed to Hussein's leadership. Two other Saddam- era officials, including the former president's chief aide, were also sentenced to hang.

Aziz looked ashen and clutched the handrail in front of him as Judge Hassan literally shouted out the sentence, at one point asking the former foreign minister if he understood. …

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