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Originally published Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Once-prominent figure under Saddam acquitted

Iraq's special criminal court on Monday acquitted Tariq Aziz, the man who once served as the urbane, cigar-smoking public face of Saddam Hussein's rule, delivering the most significant not-guilty verdict in a series of prosecutions for crimes against humanity that occurred before the American invasion in 2003.

The New York Times

BAGHDAD — Iraq's special criminal court on Monday acquitted Tariq Aziz, the man who once served as the urbane, cigar-smoking public face of Saddam Hussein's rule, delivering the most significant not-guilty verdict in a series of prosecutions for crimes against humanity that occurred before the American invasion in 2003.

Aziz, who will turn 73 next month, remained in custody, facing charges in two other cases. Only hours after his acquittal, he appeared before another judge to defend himself against charges that he was involved in the massacre of Kurds in 1983.

Even so, the verdict — the first in a case against him — was viewed as a sign of judicial fairness and independence for a controversial tribunal that has been deliberating the most heinous crimes of Saddam's era.

Aziz, who was Iraq's foreign minister during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and Saddam's deputy prime minister during the American invasion in 2003, was acquitted of culpability in a brutal crackdown against Shiite protesters that followed the assassination of a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr in 1999.

The court convicted Ali Hassan al-Majid — a former aide known as "Chemical Ali" for ordering poison-gas attacks against the Kurds in the 1980s — for his role in those killings, sentencing him to death for a third time.

Two other Saddam aides, Saif al-Din al-Mashhadani and Uglah Abid Siqir al-Kubaysi, both senior Baath party officials who appeared on the infamous deck of playing cards for Iraq's most wanted, were also acquitted in the case.

The court, officially the Iraqi High Tribunal, was created after the 2003 invasion during the American provisional government to prosecute cases against Saddam and his senior aides. It has dismissed charges and delivered acquittals in a few other cases, but none involving a defendant as prominent as Aziz.

A member of the movement now led by the grand ayatollah's son, Muktada, denounced the verdict.

"This decision devalues the blood of Sadrists," Liqa Jaffar al-Yassin, also a member of Parliament, said.

Aziz turned himself in to American forces in April 2003 and has remained in custody ever since. He appeared in court looking frail and aged, in a black suit.

When the judge finished reading the verdict, he showed little emotion, but raised his hand and said simply, "Thank you."

Also

One of Iran's most powerful political and religious figures — former President Hashemi Rafsanjani — promised Monday to assist in Iraq's reconstruction after nearly six years of war that has involved Shiite militias with suspected links to Iran.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Iraqi authorities could benefit from Rafsanjani's "long experience" as a leader who helped rebuild Iran after its war with Iraq in 1980-88 that killed more than 1 million people.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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