Baghdad – Iraqi bishops and ordinary Iraqis have joined the European Union and the Vatican in criticising the death sentence imposed on Tareq Aziz, former right hand man of Saddam Hussein. Most Iraqi media have done the same. According to the ruling by Iraq’s Supreme Court issued on Tuesday, the former foreign minister is guilty of taking part in the elimination campaign of a number of Shia political groups, like Dawa, to which current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki belongs.
The European Union, through its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, has called the sentence as “unacceptable”, demanding its suspension. One of Aziz’s lawyers, Badia al-Aref, said he plans to plead with the Vatican to do something to stop the execution. In the meantime, he will launch an appeal.
Iraqi prelates: peace, not more blood, is needed
Whilst the Holy See has let it be known, with the utmost prudence, that it will intervene through diplomatic channels to stop Aziz’s hanging, Iraqi prelates have expressed their opposition to the execution, whose date has not yet been set.
“We condemn in any case the death penalty,” said the Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar, Mgr Shlemon Warduni, in an interview with an Italian-language blog, Baghdadhope. “Our faith tells us that no one should take the life that God gave. What we want is peace and security, and for people to be able to meet, not clash,” he said.
The Latin archbishop of the capital, Mgr Jean B. Sleiman, agrees. He speculates that the sentence might be a signal of sorts to various groups that are pressing for the reintegration of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baa‘th party into the country’s political and social life.
Many Iraqis also believe that the sentence is politically motivated rather based in law. “Most Iraqis condemn the death penalty imposed on Tareq Aziz,” said Taleb Abdulaziz, an Iraqi reporter for Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas. “He is an old man, sick, and the conviction should be less harsh.”
A controversial figure
The former foreign minister, a Chaldean Christian, is often cited as an example of how favourably Christians were treated under Saddam. For some Iraqi Chaldeans, “There is nothing farther from the truth than this”.
Born in 1936 in Mosul into a Chaldean family, Tareq Aziz has always downplayed his religious background, presenting himself first and foremost as an Iraqi Arab and a member of the Baa‘th Party. In fact, he changed his original and very Christian name, Mikhail Yuhanna, for one that was less obvious about his origins. When Christian schools were nationalised, he “did not lift a finger,” nor did he say anything when the Qur’an became a compulsory subject in schools.
In an interview with AsiaNews in 2003, Mgr Sleiman remembers that “the Christian minority often got more concessions from Muslim ministers rather than Aziz”.