Saddam Hussein's foreign minister Tariq Aziz was sentenced to death by hanging Tuesday for persecuting members of Shiite religious parties under the former regime.
Iraq's high criminal court spokesman Mohammed Abdul Sahib did not say when Aziz, 74, would be put to death. The death sentence was for a conviction on charges of taking part in a Saddam-led campaign that hunted and executed members of the Shiite Dawa Party, of which current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member.
Aziz, a Christian who became known as the international face of Saddam's regime, has already been convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering. He also received a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Aziz predicted he will die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences.
Aziz was well known in foreign capitals and at the United Nations before Saddam's downfall. He rose to prominence at the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War when he was foreign minister.
He gave himself up to invading U.S. forces in April 2003 but was handed over to Iraqi prison authorities this year. In August he accused President Barack Obama in a jailhouse interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper of "leaving Iraq to the wolves" because of U.S. plans to withdraw.
The high tribunal's media office said two other defendants in the case were also sentenced to death.
One was a former interior minister and intelligence chief, Sadoun Shakir, and the other was Abed Hamoud, a former private secretary to Saddam.
'Politically motivated'It was not immediately clear if Aziz's Jordan-based lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, will appeal the verdict.
"We are discussing this issue and what next step we should take," Aref told The Associated Press in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Aziz has 30 days to decide on launching an appeal, he said.
Aref questioned the timing of the death sentence. He said the court's decision was politically motivated and accused al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of trying to divert attention from recent WikiLeaks revelations of prisoners' abuse by Iraqi security forces and the U.S. military.
"This sentence is not fair and it is politically motivated," he said.
Aziz's son, Ziad, told the AP that the death sentence was "unfair" and "illogical." He said his father was the victim, not the criminal, since Dawa Party members tried to assassinate him in 1980.
"This is an illogical and an unfair sentence that is serving political goals of the Iraqi government," Ziad said in an interview Tuesday. "Tariq Aziz himself was the victim of the religious parties that tried to kill him in 1980, but now he is turned to a criminal."
The Vatican on Tuesday urged Iraq not carry out the death sentence and said it may intervene diplomatically to try to halt it. Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman said commuting the sentence would encourage reconciliation and the rebuilding of peace and justice in Iraq.
When Aziz was transferred from U.S. to Iraqi custody, his family said they were worried about his health in Baghdad's Kazimiyah prison, where Aziz is being held now. He has suffered several strokes while in Iraqi custody. He used a cane for support during recent court appearances.