18 Nov 2010

President won't sign death warrant for Saddam's deputy

9:07 am on 18 November 2010

President Jalal Talabani of Iraq says he won't sign an order for the execution of former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who served under Saddam Hussein.

Aziz, 74, who was once the international face of Saddam's government, was sentenced to death last month for persecution of religious parties.

He had been previously convicted for his role in the execution of dozens of merchants for profiteering and for his role in the displacement of the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq.

He is also reported to be seriously ill.

Mr Talabani told France 24 television he would never sign the order because of Aziz's age and because he is an Iraqi Christian.

The president is known for his general opposition to the death penalty. He refused to sign a warrant ordering the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006.

Instead, the order was ratified by one of Mr Talabani's two deputies and the former Iraqi president was hanged all the same.

The BBC reports it is not clear what will happen in this case. Mr Talabani was re-appointed last week. At the moment, he has no formal deputies who could authorise the death penalty in his place.

The European Union, the Vatican and Russia have called on Iraq not to execute Aziz on grounds of age and ill health.