Saddam Hussein’s deputy and former Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, may die within months and should be freed from prison “as a humanitarian gesture,” his eldest son said.
“He won’t survive more than two to three months,” Ziad Tariq Aziz said of his father in a phone interview today from Amman, Jordan. The 74-year-old has had three strokes in the eight years he has been in prison and can no longer speak or walk, his son said. The family has sent medicine to his Baghdad jail “but no one knows if he took it or not,” he added.
In October, a court set up to try senior members of the former Baathist regime condemned Aziz to death “for the persecution of Islamic parties,” including the Shiite Muslim Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. President Jalal Talabani has refused to sign the order, joining the Vatican, Russia and Greece, along with the United Nations and the European Union, in objecting to the sentence, given Aziz’s age and health.
At least eight other senior Baathists are being held in Iraq. Their fate remains one of the most delicate issues facing al-Maliki’s government, which has pledged to heal sectarian rifts between Shiite Muslims and Sunnis, who dominated Hussein’s inner circle, and bring stability to the country as U.S. troops prepare to exit at the end of the year.
Talabani is against the death penalty on principle and has never signed off on an execution, including the December 2006 hanging of Hussein, which embarrassed the Iraqi government when a video emerged showing the former president being taunted at the gallows by Shiites. Under the constitution, death sentences must be ratified by the president, though an act of parliament or a veto by a vice president can override the presidential decision.
An appeal against his father’s death sentence was filed within the legal period of 30 days after he was condemned to die, and no one knows where the process stands, Ziad Aziz said.
The court ruling came as Iraqi leaders competed to form a new government after March’s inconclusive elections, and was politically motivated, the son added. Presiding Judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hassan ran unsuccessfully for parliament as part of al-Maliki’s coalition, saying he would humiliate Baathist tyrants.
“The entire world is against the implementation of execution. This is about revenge, not justice,” said Ziad Aziz, 44. “They’ve implicated my father in everything, in every single case you can imagine. He’s been apportioned blame for issues that never even fell within the realm of his responsibilities.”
Before Aziz received the death penalty, he had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the execution of 42 merchants and a further seven for helping to plan the forced displacement of Kurds from northeastern Iraq. He was acquitted of charges he had a role in the killing of Shiite protesters.
Aziz, a Christian from Mosul, met Hussein in the 1950s when they were activists for the then-banned Baath party and rose through the ranks when it came to power in 1968. When the U.S. issued a deck of cards to portray the most-wanted regime leaders after the 2003 invasion, Aziz was the eight of spades.
Ziad Aziz said he last saw his father on April 24, 2003, the day he surrendered to U.S. forces. Tariq Aziz was held in a U.S.-run prison before being handed over to Iraqi authorities in July as part of the Obama administration’s phased pullout of American forces.
The younger Aziz said al-Maliki’s new government should show mercy toward his father, citing the case of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who has cancer and was returned to Libya on compassionate grounds in 2009 after being imprisoned in Scotland for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am plane over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
“As a humanitarian gesture, release my father,” Aziz said.