- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

BAGHDAD | Saddam Hussein’s former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants accused of price gouging while Iraq was under U.N. sanctions.

The conviction was the first against Aziz, who for years was the former regime’s public face to the West.

Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, the infamous “Chemical Ali,” also got a 15-year prison sentence in the case. Two of Saddam’s half-brothers, former Interior Minister Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan and director of public security Sabawi Ibrahim, were sentenced to death.

Three other defendants got sentences of life in prison, 15 years and six years. Former Central Bank Gov. Issam Rashid Hweish was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Last week, Aziz was acquitted of being responsible for a brutal crackdown on Shi’ite protesters that followed the 1999 assassination of a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr - the father of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Three other former regime officials were sentenced to death in that case, including Chemical Ali. It was his third death sentence for atrocities under Saddam’s rule.

Aziz also faces charges in a third case involving the killing and arrest of hundreds of Kurds in the early 1980s that are still pending.

The trial, which opened in April but was often delayed, dealt with the execution of the 42 merchants accused by Saddam’s government of being behind a sharp increase in food prices when the country was experiencing hardships under sanctions.

The merchants were rounded up over two days in July 1992 from Baghdad’s wholesale markets and charged with manipulating food supplies to drive up prices at a time when many Iraqis were suffering economically. All 42 were executed hours later after a quick trial.

Aziz, who wore a blue jacket, black shirt and his trademark thick, black-rimmed glasses, blinked frequently throughout the sentencing. He stood silently until the end before asking the judge if he could sit down - a request that was granted.

The silver-haired Aziz, who was convicted of four counts of crimes against humanity including complicity in murder and torture, later sat with his eyes shut as the other defendants rose to hear their sentences.

Aziz, who turns 73 next month and was the only Christian in Saddam’s mostly Sunni Muslim regime, became internationally known as Saddam’s defender in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the regime.

Aziz, who was No. 43 in the deck of cards of wanted regime figures issued after Saddam’s ouster, surrendered to American forces on April 25, 2003.

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