Tariq Aziz and his friends

Submitted by martin on 2 November, 2010 - 10:37 Author: Rhodri Evans

Saddam Hussein's deputy Tariq Aziz was sentenced to death on 26 October, on charges to do with his role in the Saddam regime's massacre of Islamist opponents.

The European Union has declared the death sentence "unacceptable", and the Vatican and several European governments have called for clemency.

Piquantly, though, those who boosted Aziz when he was in power, or when they may have hoped that "the resistance" would triumph in Iraq and re-elevate Aziz, have been silent. There has been no comment from Respect, from the Socialist Workers' Party, or from the rump Workers' Revolutionary Party. None even from George Galloway.

Before 2003 Galloway visited Iraq about once a month on average, described Aziz as his "dear friend", and ate Christmas dinner with him. In 2005 Galloway took up a petition for Aziz's release - initiated by a French far-rightist - and enticed Tony Benn and others to sign it. Today, silence.

Aziz surrendered to US forces in April 2003, soon after the invasion, and has been in jail ever since. He is now in very poor health. It is not clear whether his lawyers will appeal, or when the death sentence may be carried out.

In his heyday, Aziz was the chief public face of Saddam's "Republic of Fear", speaking to journalists and diplomats much more than Saddam himself.

That he is guilty of heinous crimes is beyond doubt. Whether the death penalty against him, now, at a time when Aziz has no possibility of becoming a rallying-point for a Ba'thist revival, is justified, is another matter.

Aziz was interviewed by the Guardian in August 2010, refusing to disavow Saddam but also criticising Obama for planning to withdraw US troops from Iraq too soon (in 2011). Iyad Allawi, one of the two rivals who have been jousting to be prime minister of Iraq since its parliamentary election in March 2010, was asked by the Guardian for comment, and said:

"Tell Tariq Aziz that he is my friend and I think of him often. He is a good man and I know his family well. I wish him all the best and it is wrong to lock him up like this for so long. He is an old man." (Guardian, 5 August).

Allawi is an ex-Ba'thist himself, as well as a former CIA agent. Allawi's rival Nuri al-Maliki is still caretaker prime minister, while the negotiations (already eight months old) for a new coalition government continue, and it looks as if Maliki has organised the death sentence for Aziz (and on charges to do with Saddam-regime repression against Maliki's own, Islamist, party) as a factional blow against Allawi's relatively secular party.

The journalist Mark Seddon has suggested that "Aziz, who could tell the whole story of western involvement in Iraq, before, during and after the war, simply has to be got rid of". But if Aziz could speak to the Guardian in August, he could already have told any "whole story" he has. The history of US government aid to the Saddam regime during Iraq's war with Iran (1980-88), which Seddon is referring, is anyway already well known.

Thus a US plot seems an unlikely explanation for the death sentence. A Maliki plot? That is more likely.

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