by RAY FLEMING

IT is difficult for anyone who did not live in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime to judge whether Tariq Aziz, who served as Hussein's foreign minister for many years, should be hanged as the country's highest court has just decided. Aziz was in some ways the acceptable face of Iraq, the only Christian in Hussein's inner circle and a seeming voice of reason and compromise when defending his country's policies abroad. He claimed that he was not directly involved in the many atrocities committed by Hussein and his close associates but he has acknowledged that he had “a moral responsibility to defend the government.”

An earlier charge against Aziz led to a sentence of twenty-two years imprisonment. The sentence of death handed down in Baghdad on Monday concerned his role in the persecution of the Shia Islamic Dawa opposition party in Hussein's time. The current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was a member of that party which is now part of one of the country's two leading political groupings. Mr al-Maliki's opponent in the still unresolved six-month negotiations to form a new government is Iyad Allawi who publicly recognises his long-standing friendship for Aziz. There may thus be a political factor at work in the verdict passed on Aziz and its timing. In the court room to hear the sentence the 74-year-old Tariq Aziz looked frail and weary.

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