Tareq Aziz trial begins at Iraqi High Tribunal

The trial begins in Iraq on Tuesday of Tareq Aziz, former deputy premier and the international face of the Saddam Hussein regime, on charges related to the execution of 42 Baghdad merchants in 1992.

Tareq Aziz trial begins at Iraqi High Tribunal
It is the fourth trial of former regime officials by the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT), the court set up to try high-ranking officials under Saddam.

Tareq Aziz and seven others, including "Chemical" Ali Hasan al-Majid, are accused of executing the Baghdad businessmen after blaming them for hiking food prices when Iraq was under UN sanctions.

Prosecutors say the victims were arrested in Baghdad's wholesale markets and executed after a speedy trial in 1992. They also allege that the former regime then seized their money and property.

According to his son, Tareq Aziz is innocent of the charges against him.

Ziad Aziz also described the charges against his father as "weak" and aimed at "preventing him from taking advantage of the amnesty law which states that anyone held for a year without being referred to court must be released."

"My father has been in prison for five years... without being charged, tried or investigated," he said.

Aziz and Majid, who is already on death row after being convicted of genocide for overseeing the killings of Kurdish villagers in 1988, are the two most high profile defendants in the new trial.

The other six are Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan, half-brother of Saddam and former interior minister; Sabbawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, chief of public security from 1991 to 1995; Mizban Khudier Hadi, a member of the former Revolutionary Command Council; Saddam's secretary Abid Hamid Mahmud; Ahmed Hussein Khudier, a former finance minister; and ex-governor of the central bank Essam Rasheed Khuwaish.

The trial of Aziz, who surrendered to US forces in April 2003, will be presided over by Kurdish judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, who sentenced Saddam to death in 2006 for his role in the killing of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him in 1982.

Saddam was hanged on December 30, 2006. His cohorts Taha Yassin Ramadan, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar met the same fate after being convicted over the Dujail killings.

Majid and two other former regime officials are on death row for the Kurdish killings during the so-called Anfal campaign in the final year of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war.

Majid is also on trial for his role in crushing the 1991 Shiite uprising that followed the first Gulf War, the third trial being conducted by the IHT.

On Thursday Aziz's lawyer Badie Aref said in Amman that the defence team will attend the trial "if the security situation is suitable."

The urbane cigar-smoking Aziz, with his mastery of English, put a cultured gloss on Saddam's regime in its dealings with the West.

At one of last year's hearings during the Anfal trial, Aziz praised Saddam defiantly when he was called as a witness.

"I had the honour to work with the former regime and with the hero Saddam Hussein," he said from the stand.

"He is the hero behind the unity of Iraq and its sovereignty. This is an honour to me," Aziz added, much to the distress of the judge and prosecutors.

His lawyers have often complained of his ill health during the past five years of custody.

Little has been heard of Aziz since he gave himself up, except for occasional health-related statements from Aref and from his family.

In December 2006, his son said Aziz had suffered a heart attack in custody.

Aziz was born a Christian in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to a Chaldean Catholic family. He changed his given name, Michael Yuhanna, to Tareq Aziz.

He had known Saddam since the 1950s, and despite being kept outside the closed circle of Saddam's Sunni Arab colleagues he became one of the regime's best-known figures for his anti-West tirades.

Aref has in the past charged that Aziz was being held in a room "reserved for dogs," measuring just two metres (yards) by one metre, which he was allowed to leave only for brief periods.

Last Mod: 29 Nisan 2008, 13:09
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