Tariq Aziz was one of Saddam Hussein’s most prominent deputies. Photograph: Hadi Mizban/AP
Saddam Hussein‘s most powerful deputy, Tariq Aziz, was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court this morning for being personally involved in the killing of members of Shia Islamic religious parties after the first Gulf war.
Aziz, Iraq‘s former deputy prime minister and long-term face to the world, was condemned along with four other men, all of whom had been accused of persecuting and killing members of the Shia-dominated Dawa party, which was the main opposition group to Saddam during the 24 years he ruled Iraq.
Aziz, 74, was handed over by US forces to Iraqi custody this year. He was listed as number 25 on George Bush’s infamous deck of cards – a hitlist of regime figures who the invading US military had planned to kill or capture.
His family described the death sentence as a “travesty” and said the court that convicted him was like a theatre.
The sentence was confirmed by Mohammed Abdul Sahab, the chief judge of Iraq’s high criminal court, who told the Guardian Aziz may face further death sentences in the coming days and weeks.
Sahab said not all of the charges against Aziz related to members of the Dawa party, which is now a key part of the Baghdad establishment and is led by Nouri al-Maliki, who is campaigning heavily for a second term as Iraq’s prime minister.
Aziz had previously been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of 42 merchants who had been accused of manipulating food prices. He received a second seven-year sentence relating to the forced displacement of Kurds from northern Iraq. The latest trial started on 16 August this year. Judge Mohammed al-Hassan handed down today’s death sentence.
In a prison interview with the Guardian in August, his first since the fall of Baghdad, Aziz said: “Did I commit a crime against any civilian, military or religious man? The answer is no.
“Of course I was a member of the Revolutionary Command Council, a leader of the Ba’ath party, deputy prime minister, foreign minister – all of those posts were mine,” he said, before claiming he was powerless to stop the will of Saddam.
“All decisions were taken by president Saddam Hussein. I held a political position, I did not participate in any of the crimes that were raised against me personally. Out of hundreds of complaints, nobody has mentioned me in person.”
Aziz’s son, Ziad, who was airlifted to Amman by US forces in return for his father’s surrender in April 2003, described the death sentence as a “travesty” and said the court that had convicted him was like “a theatrical performance”.
“None of the victims themselves accused him of any of the killings,” he said. “Not one person submitted any allegation, or made any claim against him.
“My father had been a victim of the Dawa party. They had tried to assassinate him during the 80s. This is just Maliki trying to avenge the WikiLeaks allegations.”
Aziz said his father had not been represented by a lawyer for more than 12 months. “Anyone who claims to have represented him recently is lying,” he said.