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Tariq Aziz, ex-regime members back in Iraqi court after leaving US custody, says official

BAGHDAD (AP) — Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and several other members of Saddam Hussein's regime appeared in court Sunday just days after their handover from the U.S. to Iraqi custody, an Iraqi official said.

Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said Aziz, 74, and the other members of the deposed regime were summoned to appear in front of the court dealing with crimes from the Saddam era.

The court charged Aziz with squandering the public wealth and he will face a new trial, his lawyer Badee Izzat Aref said.

Aziz, who was the international face of Saddam's regime for several years, has twice before been convicted by the Iraqi High Tribunal and has received prison sentences of 15 years and 7 years in prison.

The U.S. military has handed Aziz and dozens of other members Saddam's inner circle to Iraqi authorities earlier this week just days before Iraq assumed control of the last American-run prison in the country.

Aziz's family expressed fear for their father's life, saying the Shiite-led government was bent on revenge.

Aref accused the government of violating the law after he said his permission from the Justice Ministry to visit Aziz and several other former officials he represents in jail on Monday was revoked.

"The government prevented me on unreasonable grounds," Aref said. "This is a violation of law." He said authorities told him he could not see his client because Aziz was busy standing trial.

Iraq has executed a number of high-profile members of Saddam's regime, including "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin, who earned his nickname for atrocities such as the deaths of an estimated 5,000 Kurds in a poison gas attack in 1988.

Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated regime and became internationally known as the dictator's defender and a fierce American critic first as foreign minister after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and later as a deputy prime minister.

Aziz surrendered to U.S. forces about a month after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq started. He was later acquitted in one trial but was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering.

He was also sentenced to 7 years in prison for his involvement in to forced displacement of the Kurds in northern Iraq.

U.S. military continues to hold eight members of Saddam's regime, including former defense minister Sultan Hashim al-Taie, at the request of the Iraqi government.

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Associated Press Jamal Halaby contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan