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Saddam-era Iraqi foreign minister faces new charges

Former Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and 15 other high ranking former officials in the government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] appeared in court over the weekend and were charged with crimes committed during Hussein's regime. According to his lawyer, Aziz will now stand trial on charges of squandering public funds [Al Jazeera report]. Aziz's lawyer contends that he has been denied access to his client and that the current Iraqi government is attempting to find a reason to execute Aziz [AFP report]. The new charges were filed less than a week after the US transferred 26 Saddam-era Iraqi officials [JURIST report], including Aziz, from Camp Cropper [JURIST news archive] to the Iraqi-controlled Kadhimiya prison in Baghdad. Aziz has said he he fears for his life [AP report] while in the custody of the current Iraqi government and plans to appeal to the Vatican to intervene on his behalf. Aziz's family has called for his release on health grounds, claiming he has had two heart attacks and suffered a stroke [JURIST report] in January. In August 2009, Aziz was convicted of forcing Kurdish displacement [JURIST report] from northeast Iraq during the late 1980s, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. In March 2009, Aziz was sentenced to 15 years [JURIST report] in prison for the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions. The US continues to hold eight Saddam-era officials at the request of the Iraqi government.

Camp Cropper, the last US-run detention facility in Iraq, and the 1,600 prisoners held there were transferred to the Iraqi government [BBC report] on Thursday. In March, the US military transferred Camp Taji prison [JURIST report] to Iraqi authorities. The US began to scale back its Iraq detention facilities in September when Camp Bucca [JURIST news archive] in southern Iraq was closed [JURIST report] pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement [text, PDF]. According to the agreement, all US troops must be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, and the US must release all prisoners or transfer them to the control of Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi government must have arrest warrants or detention orders to accept transferred prisoners into Iraqi facilities, otherwise risking release. A fourth US-run prison, Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive], was transferred back to Iraqi control [JURIST report] in 2006. The Iraqi government has recently faced criticism for its treatment of prisoners from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. In April, the rights group claimed that Iraqi detainees were repeatedly tortured [JURIST report] in a secret prison in Baghdad.

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