An archbishop in Iraq is to appeal to the government against the death sentence served on Tariq Aziz, who played a key role in Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Archbishop Georges Casmoussa of Mosul described yesterday’s decision by the Iraqi Supreme Court as “wrong”, saying he will beg the country’s president and prime minister to save the life of the 74-year-old former foreign minister and deputy prime minister.
Mr Aziz, who is said to be in extremely poor health, is convicted of persecuting religious parties and being involved in illegal executions.
Speaking from northern Iraq today, the Syrian Catholic archbishop told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “We have to form an international appeal to the Iraqi government to reverse their decision concerning Tariq Aziz.”
“I am ready to sign any document asking that the death sentence is not carried out.”
Archbishop Casmoussa outlined plans to call on Christians and Muslims across Mosul to sign a petition against the Supreme Court’s decision concerning Aziz, who was a Catholic of the Chaldean rite.
The archbishop’s intervention came barely 24 hours after the Vatican released a statement condemning the decision, reiterating the Church’s long-held opposition to the death penalty.
Archbishop Casmoussa went on to defend Tariq Aziz, who was convicted of persecuting religious (Shi’a) Muslim communities and being involved in the execution of merchants accused of profiteering.
The Catholic Church has long upheld its opposition to the death penalty irrespective of the outcome of criminal investigations.
The archbishop, who was speaking after returning to Iraq following the Rome Synod of Middle East bishops, said he was likely to mount a campaign similar to one organised after the death sentence was passed against former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad.
Noting how Ahmad was still alive three years on, Archbishop Casmoussa said: “For defence minister Sultan, the people of Mosul – Muslims and Christians alike – signed a petition asking the Prime Minister and President of Iraq to save his life.
Tariq Aziz was instantly recognisable around the world as the public face of Saddam’s regime, serving as foreign minister during the First Gulf War (1990-1) and later as Deputy Prime Minister.
Aziz surrendered to US troops in April 2003 shortly after Baghdad was taken.
In March 2009, he was imprisoned for 15 years for the executions of 42 Iraqi merchants.
Five months later, he was sentenced to a further seven years in jail for his role in the forced displacement of Kurds.
In a statement, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi wrote: “The position of the Catholic Church on the death penalty is known.
“Therefore it is truly to be hoped that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be carried out precisely in order to favour reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great suffering it has undergone.”