Iraq's President Says He Won't Approve Execution of Hussein Adviser Aziz

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he won’t agree to the execution of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, an adviser in Saddam Hussein’s regime.

"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 interview aired today. "I will sign no death sentence at all because as a social democrat, I’m against the death penalty."

Aziz, 74, was found guilty on Oct. 26 along with two other top regime aides “of the liquidation of members of religious parties” and sentenced to hang. On March 11, the Iraqi High Tribunal had sentenced Aziz and Ali Hassan al-Majid, a senior official in Hussein’s Baath party known as “Chemical Ali,” to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity in the killing of Baghdad merchants in the 1990s. Al-Majid, known for his role in poisonous-gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds, was hanged on Jan. 25.

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. It was part of Anfal, the 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 in 2003. 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.

Calls and e-mails seeking comment from Talabani’s party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, weren’t immediately returned because today is an Islamic holiday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivian Salama in Abu Dhabi at vsalama@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net.

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