Published November 29, 2010
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi court on Monday convicted Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's longtime foreign minister, of terrorizing Shiite Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war, sentencing him to 10 years in prison.
The jail term piles a new penalty on the 74-year-old Aziz, who already faces an execution sentence from another case.
Aziz was spared the death penalty in the Saddam-era crimes against humanity because he had a lesser involvement in the atrocities than some of his co-defendants, said Mohammed Abdul-Sahib, a spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal. The case involves crimes targeting Iraq's small sect of Shiite Kurds, known as Faili.
At least three former Saddam loyalists were sentenced to death in the same case, although two of the dictator's half brothers were found not guilty in the campaign against the Faili Kurds.
Saddam was a Sunni Muslim. In all, 15 defendants were charged in the case.
The small Faili minority comes mainly from an area in northeastern Iraq that straddles the Iraq-Iran border. Saddam killed, detained and deported tens of thousands of Faili Kurds early in his 1980-1988 war with Iran, denouncing them as alien Persians and spies for the Iranians.
Aziz was the highest-profile defendant to come before judges on Monday. He already faces execution in an earlier case linking him to Saddam's persecution of Shiite political parties.
His Italy-based lawyer, Giovanni di Stefano, called his return to court an example of "how seriously flawed is the Iraqi criminal justice system." He said all of the allegations against Aziz should have been rolled into one trial.
Di Stefano also said he plans to sue the U.S. government for reneging on what he called an agreement approved by former U.S. President George W. Bush to release Aziz after being questioned about the Saddam regime as a condition of his 2003 surrender to American forces in Iraq.
Aziz is still waiting to hear whether President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, will grant him a presidential pardon or if he will be executed on order from the High Tribunal's appeals court -- a decision that could come at any time. Talabani has said he will not sign off on Aziz's death warrant, given his old age and the fact that he was the only Christian in Saddam's inner circle.
But there are ways in Iraq's constitution to bypass the president in capital cases -- such as an act of parliament or the approval of one of Talabani's two deputies. It's also not clear if Talabani has the constitutional authority to grant Aziz a pardon.