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Tariq Aziz seeks pardon to halt execution

Associated Press / November 23, 2010

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BAGHDAD — Lawyers for Tariq Aziz, the longtime international face of Saddam Hussein’s regime, said yesterday they will seek a presidential pardon to spare him from execution.

Attorney Giovanni Di Stefano said the defense team for Aziz would ask for the pardon instead of appealing his death sentence last month for persecution of Shi’ite Muslim political parties during the Hussein era.

It is a risky legal move. President Jalal Talabani has granted few, if any, pardons in his more than five-year tenure in Iraq and could be prevented from doing so in this case. It comes amid pleas from the Vatican and several anti-death penalty nations in Europe for amnesty for Aziz, the only Christian in Hussein’s inner circle.

“This could be the diplomatic solution people have been waiting for,’’ Di Stefano said.

Aziz “does not want special treatment because he is a Christian,’’ said Di Stefano, who is based in Italy. “He seeks the pardon as a step toward reconciliation of Iraq. Enough people have been killed, enough people have been executed.’’

A Talabani spokesman could not be reached yesterday evening for comment.

Aziz served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister and was internationally known as the dictator’s defender. He also was a fierce critic of the United States after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but met in January 1991 with James A. Baker, then US secretary of state, to try to prevent the Gulf War. He also met with the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican just weeks before the March 2003 US-led invasion in a bid to stop it.

Last week, the Iraqi president said he will not sign a death warrant for Aziz, saying it was wrong to execute the 74-year-old man. The only execution Talabani has tried to block — that of Hussein’s defense minister, Sultan Hashim al-Taie — has been delayed for three years.

Iraq’s constitution says the president can grant pardons only “on the recommendation of the prime minister.’’ In this case, that would be Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shi’ite Dawa party was the main victim of the crimes Aziz was convicted of committing.

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