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Iraq president refuses to approve execution of ex-foreign minister

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said in an interview [video] Wednesday that he will not sign the execution order for former foreign minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Aziz, who served in the government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] as both the foreign minister and deputy prime minister, was sentenced to death [JURIST report] last month by the Iraqi High Criminal Court. The sentence was rendered on charges that Aziz, while serving in his governmental roles, was involved in the persecution of various Iraqi religious parties. In the interview, in which Talabani also answered questions regarding the recent formation of a new government [JURIST report], he cited his political beliefs as the main justification underlying his refusal to sign the execution order. He stated, "I will not sign the order to execute Tariq Aziz, I cannot sign an order of this kind because I'm a socialist, I feel compassion for [him]."

Aziz is currently serving a 15-year sentence [JURIST report], which is the result of a prior conviction in March 2009. However, the death sentence based on this most recent conviction cannot be carried out in the absence of the approval of the Presidency Council.

In July, 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. That month, Aziz was also charged with additional crimes alleged to have occurred during Hussein's regime, with his lawyer contending that the current Iraqi government was attempting to find a reason to execute him. Aziz's family has called for his release on health grounds, based on claims he has had two heart attacks in addition to having 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. Prior to his March conviction for the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions, Aziz was acquitted of charges [JURIST report] in connection with the 1999 killing of protesters who rioted in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.

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