Lots of people have weighed in to condemn the planned execution of Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi official who was condemned to death this week, including the Vatican, Russia, and Amnesty International. Let me add my voice to theirs.
The hanging judge in this particular kangaroo court is a former aide to Prime Minister Maliki, who ran for election on Maliki’s misnamed State of Law coalition. It’s clear that Maliki wants to use the execution of Tariq Aziz, a Roman Catholic, to build support for his party among the most extreme Shiite partisans. Like Maliki’s support for the pre-election shenanigans in January, when Iran and Ahmed Chalabi maneuvered to exclude hundreds of legitimate candidates from running over charges of connections to the old Baath Party, Maliki wants to wave the bloody shirt of Tariq Aziz to rally his supporters. The fact that he’s not a Muslim makes that even more popular among Shiite radicals.
Anyone who dealt with Iraq from the 1970s through 2003 knows that Tariq Aziz shouldn’t be put to death for crimes committed during the Saddam Hussein era. As a civilian official, he was often a moderating voice within Iraqi councils, including during the first Gulf War in 1990-91, and he certainly wasn’t responsible for internal repression by the secret police. The biggest irony in the whole affair is that the very people who’ve condemned him to death, led by functionaries of the secretive, Islamic fundamentalist Dawa party led by Prime Minister Maliki, are themselves responsible for atrocities at least on the scale of the repression visited on the Shiites and Kurds in the old Iraq.
Since taking over in Baghdad in 2003, the Shiite majority has been responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, carried out by Shiite death squads under the command of the Badr Corps, the militia of the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrist Mahdi Army, now allied to Maliki’s political bloc, and by Dawa fanatics, too, who helped run infamous prisons in Iraq where many innocent Sunnis were tortured or killed. It should be noted that in 1980, soon after becoming Iraq’s deputy prime minister, assassins from Dawa, backed by Iran, threw a grenade that almost killed Aziz and did kill a number of others. At the time, the new regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran was bent on expanding its power by toppling the government of Iraq, and Dawa—which had been responsible for other terrorist acts in Iraq, too, over the years—helped raise tensions that provoked the eight-year Iran-Iraq was that began in September 1980.
A spokesman for the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, said, “We really want the sentence against Tariq Aziz not to be carried out.” Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that killing Aziz “will only worsen the situation in Iraq.” Part of the reason why Iraq wants him dead, and why the United States hasn’t intervened on his behalf, is that Aziz reportedly plans to spill secrets about Iraq’s diplomacy over the decades that he served as foreign minister, including American contacts with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, when Washington tilted to favor Baghdad over Tehran.
Aziz, who has been in prison since 2003 after surrendering to US forces, is frail, ill, and harmless, and he's someone who has a lot of history to tell. He can appeal his sentence, and his execution can be avoided. But given Maliki's desperate scramble to hold onto his job, it's looking like Aziz will be a human sacrifice.