Tariq Aziz sentenced to death by Iraqi court

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Iraqi state TV says former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has been sentenced to death for persecuting Shiite political parties during Saddam Hussein's regime.

State TV reported the High Criminal Court issued the death sentence Tuesday.

Aziz was charged with taking part in a campaign against members of the Dawa Party, of which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member.

Aziz, a Christian who became the international face of Saddam's regime, can appeal against the sentence.

Aziz, 74, predicted in a recent interview that he will die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences.

He has already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering. He also received a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.

His lawyer Badee Izzat Aref said the court's decision was politically motivated and accused Mr al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of trying to divert attention from recent WikiLeaks revelations of prisoners' abuse by Iraqi security forces and the US military.

"This sentence is not fair and it is politically motivated," he said.

Aziz's son Ziad said that the death sentence was "unfair" and "illogical." He said his father was the victim, not the criminal, since Dawa Party members tried to assassinate him in 1980.

"This is an illogical and an unfair sentence that is serving political goals of the Iraqi government," he said. "Tariq Aziz himself was the victim of the religious parties that tried to kill him in 1980, but now he is turned to a criminal."

Aziz surrendered to US forces about a month after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He was held at an American prison in Baghdad until the US handed over control of the facility in July to the Iraqi government.

When Aziz was transferred to Iraqi custody, his family said they were worried about his health in Baghdad's Kazimiyah prison, where he is being held now. He has suffered several strokes while in Iraqi custody. He used a cane for support during recent court appearances.

A fluent English speaker and the only Christian in the senior leadership of Saddam's mainly Sunni regime, Aziz became internationally known as the dictator's defender and a fierce critic of the United States both as foreign minister after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and later as a deputy prime minister who frequently travelled abroad on diplomatic missions.