BAGHDAD, (AFP) – Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Sunday rebuffed a call for clemency against execution for Saddam-era minister Tareq Aziz that was made by his visiting Italian counterpart Franco Frattini.
Zebari called for Italy and other countries to respect the independence of Iraq’s judiciary after meeting Frattini, who arrived in Iraq on the last leg of a Middle East tour.
“They (Italy) have issued a request, or a plea, for clemency,” Zebari told reporters at a joint news conference with Frattini, noting that Russia, the Vatican and several Arab countries had made similar requests.
“We confirmed to him (Frattini) the necessity to respect the decision of Iraqi justice. Aziz received all of his rights, it was not a secret or hidden trial, he had a defence. Everyone should respect the decision of Iraqi courts.”
Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani has said that he will never sign Aziz’s execution order, in keeping with his stance against capital punishment.
Aziz, 74, was handed the death penalty on October 26 for the suppression of Shiite religious parties in the 1980s.
Iraq’s supreme criminal court found the long-time international face of Saddam’s regime guilty of “deliberate murder and crimes against humanity,” sentencing him to death.
In poor health and among Saddam’s few surviving top cohorts, Aziz has been in prison since surrendering in April 2003, shortly after the capture of Baghdad in the US-led invasion.
Frattini also met prime minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki, and was also to hold talks with Talabani.
An Italian diplomat had earlier told AFP that the visit aimed to “promote bilateral economic cooperation and is an opportunity to discuss the situation of Christians in Iraq, which is a major concern for many Italians.”
A series of attacks against Iraqi Christians, notably an October 31 siege in a Baghdad cathedral that left 44 worshippers and two priests dead, has sparked an international outcry.
“Measures will be taken to enhance of the protection of the Christians,” Zebari said at the news conference. “We will send positive signals to the world by rebuilding churches and protecting the Christians.”
He added: “The government position is that we do not support the encouragement of Christians to leave Iraq to Europe. The minister (Frattini) himself agreed.”
On trade, Zebari said Italy was “very interested in broadening its relations with Iraq” and wanted to take part in projects such as the upgrading of a major dam near the northern city of Mosul and ports at Iraq’s southern tip at Al-Faw.