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Tariq Aziz guilty in 1992 killing of Iraqi merchants

The former foreign minister of Iraq is sentenced to 15 years in the deaths of 42 merchants accused of price-fixing. He once represented Saddam Hussein's regime to the world.

March 12, 2009|Raheem Salman

BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, who once represented Saddam Hussein's Iraq to the world, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the 1992 killing of 42 merchants accused of price-fixing.

The court found Aziz guilty of premeditated murder and crimes against humanity. It was the first conviction for the onetime foreign minister and deputy prime minister; last week the Iraqi High Tribunal dismissed charges against him regarding Hussein's crushing of a 1999 Shiite Muslim revolt.

The case focused on the 42 merchants who were killed by Hussein's regime for allegedly planning a dramatic increase in food prices in 1992, a time when the country was suffering the harsh effects of United Nations trade sanctions.

Hussein's first cousin Ali Hassan Majid, known as Chemical Ali for his use of chemical weapons against tens of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s, received a 15-year sentence as well. Majid received a third death sentence last week for his role in suppressing the 1999 Shiite revolt. He had already received death sentences in two other trials.

The court sentenced Hussein's half brothers Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan and Watban Ibrahim Hassan to death in the killing of the merchants. Hussein's personal secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Mezban Khudor Hadi, a former member of Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council, received a 15-year sentence. A former finance minister, Ahmed Hussein, got six years.

Charges against former central bank governor Issam Rashid Huweish were dropped for lack of evidence.

Aziz, 72, stood in the dock silently; his eye twitched as the judge read the verdict. He is still awaiting trial in the killings and arrests of Shiite Kurds in Diyala province in the 1980s.

Aziz gained notoriety during Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing U.S.-led war that drove Iraqi forces out. With his silver hair and impeccable English, he became a symbol of the regime for the West. Aziz was the senior-most Christian official under Hussein.

Prosecutors had argued that Aziz was implicated in the executions because he sat on the Revolutionary Command Council, while his lawyers argued that that role did not make him guilty. His defense team and family have protested repeatedly that Aziz is in poor health.

A confidant of Aziz, who refused to be identified by name, expressed anger over the court's decision.

"The verdict from a legal perspective is extremely wrong," the confidant said. "Tariq Aziz didn't participate or take part in anything related to that case or in killing those merchants. There is no document in the case that carries his signature."

Others reacted in anger. Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, the Hussein half brother, shouted as the judge read his sentence: "Down, down the occupier!"

He used his final moments in court to chant a fiery slogan: "I am proud to join the march of the martyrs and to be with the martyr Saddam Hussein!"

Hussein was hanged in December 2006 for ordering the killing of 148 Shiite residents of Dujayl after a 1982 assassination attempt in the town, north of Baghdad.

The tribunal has long been dogged by allegations that it is biased toward the new Shiite-led government and that members of the old regime will not be able to get a fair trial or hearing.

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Times staff writers Ned Parker in Sulaymaniya and Saif Hameed in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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