Archbishop hails Aziz acquittal

inf02xh6x_200903021.jpgIraqi deputy PM ‘could not have acted differently’
 (ANSA) – Rome, – The Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk on Monday hailed a decision by an Iraqi court to acquit Tareq Aziz, the Christian former Iraqi deputy premier under the Saddam Hussein regime, of crimes against humanity.

Msgr Louis Sako told ANSA that Monday’s ruling was just because Aziz ”lived in a time and in a regime when he could not have acted any differently”.

”Aziz and other men in Saddam Hussein’s regime were working under an absolute, ruthless, totalitarian dictatorship in which anyone who opposed the leader was killed,” said Sako, describing Aziz as ”a very educated man and a diplomat of great worth”.

”Tareq Aziz could not do any differently and now it is right that he is judged without the spirit of vendetta,” Sako said, calling for other Christians who collaborated with Saddam and who are awaiting justice should receive the same treatment.

Sako said Pope Benedict XVI ”should be cheered” by the news of Aziz’s acquittal and called for an end to the death penalty in a democratic Iraq.

Aziz had been on trial along with 13 others for their roles in the killing and displacing of Shi’ite Muslims in Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf in 1999.

The Iraqi military was ordered to quash uprisings in the cities following the assassination of Shi’ite cleric Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr.

Three of the men on trial, including Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as Chemical Ali, were sentenced to death and four others received life imprisonment.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told ANSA that Aziz’s acquittal showed ”the full independence” of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which was set up to deal with genocide and war crimes committed between 1968 and 2003.

Aziz, 72, met Pope John Paul II in Rome in February 2003 in a peace-brokering mission, weeks before an American-led military strike toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

He turned himself in to American soldiers the following April.

A Chaldean Catholic, Aziz was considered a protector of the Christian minority in Iraq and the only ‘presentable’ face of Saddam’s regime.

He is currently involved in two other trials.

In March, a ruling is expected on his role in the execution of 42 merchants and businessmen accused of manipulating food prices in Baghdad in 1992 when Iraq qas under United Nations sanctions.

On Monday, another trial began in which Aziz is accused of having a role in the killing and deportation of thousands of Shi’ite Kurds in 1983.

Photo: Tareq Aziz.