Saddam's henchman Aziz to seek Iraq pardon from death sentence

Saddam Hussein's henchman Tariq Aziz is to ask for an Iraqi presidential pardon from his death sentence for persecuting opponents.

His lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano said the pardon request was instead of appealing the sentence, handed down last month in addition to jail sentences already being served.

It is a risky legal move, considering Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has granted few, if any, pardons in his more than five-year tenure and could be prevented from doing so in this case. But it comes amid pleas from the Vatican and several anti-death penalty nations in Europe for amnesty for Aziz, the only Christian in Saddam's inner circle.

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Last week the Iraqi president said he would not sign Aziz's death warrant, explaining he believed it was wrong to execute the 74-year-old. But there are ways in Iraq's constitution to bypass the president in capital cases – such as an act of parliament or the approval of one of Mr Talabani's deputies.

"This could be the diplomatic solution people have been waiting for," Mr Di Stefano said.

Aziz "does not want special treatment because he is a Christian," he said. "He seeks the pardon as a step toward reconciliation of Iraq. Enough people have been killed, enough people have been executed."

Additionally, the constitution says Iraq's president can only grant pardons "on the recommendation of the prime minister." Iraq's current prime minister is Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shiite Dawa party was the main victim of the crimes Aziz was convicted of committing.

Aziz became known as Saddam's defender and a fierce critic of Western powers.