(Bloomberg) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he won’t agree to the execution of Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, who was sentenced to hang after being convicted of a role in the regime’s persecution of opponents.
“I feel for Tariq Aziz, because he’s an Iraqi Christian and also he’s an elderly man who is over 70,” Talabani told France24 television in an interview aired today. “I will sign no death sentence at all because as a social democrat, I’m against the death penalty.”
Aziz, 74, surrendered to U.S. forces about a month after the start of the 2003 invasion. He was found guilty last month along with two other top regime aides “of the liquidation of members of religious parties” and sentenced to hang. Aziz was held in a U.S.-run prison until being handed over to the Iraqi authorities in July as American forces started a phased pullout.
The case in which Aziz was condemned to die concerns the persecution of Shiite Muslims by Hussein’s Sunni Muslim- dominated regime, the Associated Press reported. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is from a Shiite party that is alleged to have been targeted, AP said. Al-Maliki has been named by Talabani to a second term as premier in a coalition agreement forged last week.
The Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced Aziz, and Ali Hassan al- Majid, known as “Chemical Ali,” to 15 years in prison in March 2009 for crimes against humanity in the killing of Baghdad merchants in the 1990s. Al-Majid was hanged on Jan. 25 for his role in poisonous-gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds.
The president’s refusal to ratify Aziz’s death sentence may not prevent the execution because there are mechanisms for parliament to force the hanging to take place, AP cited the Justice Ministry spokesman, Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, as saying.
Talabani is a Kurd from northern Iraq, where Hussein tried to quash the Kurds’ claims to the city of Kirkuk through their forced removal and the settlement of Sunni Muslim Arabs during the 1980s and 1990s.
In March 1988, Hussein unleashed a chemical attack on the northern city of Halabja, part of the Anfal campaign against the Kurdish rebellion that arose during the Iran-Iraq War. As many as 180,000 Kurds were killed in the north from 1987 to 1988, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said.
Aziz, a Chaldean Catholic, was the 8 of spades in a deck of cards issued by the U.S. to portray the most-wanted regime leaders after Hussein’s ouster. The Vatican asked the Iraqi government to spare Aziz, citing the Roman Catholic Church’s objection to the death penalty.
This month, some 58 Christian worshippers were killed when al-Qaeda gunmen stormed the Sayyidat al-Najat Syriac Catholic Church in the Karrada commercial district of central Baghdad during evening Mass.
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