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Tariq Aziz guilty of Iraq murders

Tariq Aziz hearing the verdict against him
It is the first conviction against the former foreign minister and deputy PM

Tariq Aziz, for many years the public face of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, has been jailed for 15 years for his role in the execution of 42 merchants.

Aziz had denied any role in the summary trials of the men accused in 1992 of profiteering during economic sanctions.

Two of Saddam Hussein's half-brothers were also found guilty and sentenced to death by a court in Baghdad.

Another top official, Ali Hassan al-Majid - commonly known as Chemical Ali - was jailed for 15 years.

Two other Iraqi officials were jailed for six and 15 years, while a former governor of the Iraqi central bank was acquitted.

Although Aziz was a world-renowned politician in his time, the BBC's Mike Sergeant in Baghdad says this trial is not viewed by Iraqis as a big political event

'Poor health'

TARIQ AZIZ
Born in 1936, near Mosul, northern Iraq
Studied English literature and became a journalist
The most senior Christian in the toppled regime
Enlisted US support for war on Iran
Met US President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1984
In US custody since April 2003

This is Tariq Aziz's first conviction in the controversial Iraqi High Tribunal process, which has been criticised by human rights groups on a number of counts.

He could also have received a death penalty. Last week he was acquitted in a separate trial over the killings of Shia Muslim protesters in 1999.

Aziz, a Christian, was Iraq's foreign minister during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, later becoming the deputy prime minister.

He had argued that his work was political and he bore no responsibility for the deaths of the flour merchants.

Aziz surrendered to US troops on 24 April 2003, shortly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and has been in custody ever since.

In recent years, he has reportedly suffered from poor health in prison awaiting trial.

His Amman-based lawyer Badea Aref told AFP news agency that he had expected his client would be acquitted for a second time as he had not been in Iraq at the time of the killings.

Mr Aref said he would appeal within the statutory 30-day period, and added that Aziz is awaiting verdicts in two further trials.

'Flawed' process

Sabawi Ibrahim giving evidence in court 13 June 2006
Sabawi Ibrahim said he would be proud to die a martyr

On Wednesday, two of Saddam Hussein's half-brothers - former presidential adviser Watban Ibrahim and former intelligence chief Sabawi Ibrahim - were sentenced to death by hanging.

As his death sentence was read out, reports say Sabaawi Ibrahim stood up and proclaimed "God is great" and that he was proud to be a martyr. The judge told him to sit down.

Co-defendant Majid was jailed for 15 years. Majid had faced his fourth capital conviction in the merchants' case, having already been sentenced in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, the crushing of a Shia uprising in 1991 and the 1999 killings.

Saddam Hussein himself was hanged in December 2006 in a separate case.

Human Rights Watch issued a report into the trial of Saddam Hussein, concluding that the process was flawed and its verdict unsound because of "serious administrative, procedural and substantive legal defects".



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