03/03/2009, 00.00
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Tareq Aziz’s acquittal upholds the rule of law, says Iraqi Christian

Special Iraqi court rules that there is no evidence of Aziz’s direct involvement in massacre. The decision shows a desire to “uncover the facts” without “political pressures”. Saddam’s former deputy is in danger of possible vendettas. Many Shias are angry at the verdict.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Tareq Aziz was acquitted because there is “no direct evidence that he was materially involved in the murders,” a Catholic Chaldean told AsiaNews. It is also a signal that the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal wants to “uncover the facts’ without “political pressures”. Tareq Aziz, the source pointed out, “used to send people before a court for judgement and never took on the onus of killing or ordering mass killing.”

A former deputy prime minister, and a one time foreign minister under Saddam Hussein, the  close loyalist of the late Iraqi leader was acquitted for his alleged role in a brutal crackdown against Friday prayer protesters that followed the assassination of a Shia cleric, Muhammad al-Sadiq al-Sadr, and his son in 1999. The action by security forces left 42 people dead, gunned down; their bodies removed and found only in 2003 after the fall of Hussein’s regime.

Conversely, Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hasan Majid, a former Baa’th chief in northern Iraq  known as ‘Chemical Ali’, was sentenced to death.

The source said that the court tried to “find the truth of the facts” based on the principles of “honesty and transparency.”

“Tareq Aziz,” he said, “was a special case. Everyone knows that he is Christian. In reality he was not that interested in religion. He was closely associated with the Socialist-Marxist movement and was always loyal to the party. He was a political figure, prone to dialogue and thinking, but saw very little action. For this reason he was never directly involved in killings. Saddam Hussein himself did not see him as the right man for punitive raids.”

Born in a village near Mosul in 1936, Tareq Aziz has always lived in the shadow of his master. So far he is the only Saddam loyalists to have been acquitted.

He surrendered to allies forces on 24 April 2003 after the fall of Saddam’s regime. Since the start of his trial he has tried to move public opinion, appearing in court in pyjama, looking sick, contrite.

He still faces two more trials and could still be the target of attacks or retaliation.

“In Middle Eastern and Arab culture, vengeance is sacred. If he were to be freed and left on his own, without protection, he could get killed,” the source said.

“Even if he is acquitted in the other cases, he will ask for political asylum in a Western country with which he had good relations, or will ask for protection from the Iraqi government. Many Shia leaders reacted angrily to his acquittal.”

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