BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, known worldwide as the international spokesman for Saddam Hussein's regime, was sentenced to death Tuesday for his part in the past persecution of Shiite Muslim dissidents, some of whom now occupy prominent roles in the Iraqi government.
Aziz, 74, listened impassively as the sentence was read at Baghdad's Supreme Criminal Court. Dressed in a casual black shirt and wearing his trademark owlish spectacles, he appeared frail and sickly, gripping the handrail of the prisoner's dock as the judge spoke.
Aziz, who suffered a stroke in January, has frequently predicted he would die in jail because of his ill health, according to family members. His lawyers have 30 days to appeal, but judging from previous cases involving former regime members, the effort would likely not succeed and Aziz could face the hangman shortly after that.
Four other former members of Hussein's regime also received death sentences in the case Tuesday, including former secretary Abed Hameed and former Interior Minister Sadoon Shaker.
A sixth defendant, Hussein's half-brother Watban Ibrahim Hassan, was acquitted for lack of evidence. But he has been sentenced to death in another case.
A member of Iraq's Christian minority, Aziz shot to prominence during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War as foreign minister. He was later promoted to deputy prime minister, a post he held until the Baath Party regime fell and he surrendered to U.S. forces in April 2003.
Aziz appeared on TV screens around the world to defend the regime's invasion of Kuwait, its defiance of international sanctions and its refusal to cooperate with U.N. inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction.
He had been sentenced to several previous prison terms, but this was his first death sentence.