In politics it is often said that timing is everything and the sudden announcement of the death sentence given to Tariq Aziz smacks of anything but judicial independence.
There are a number of reasons to suggest that incumbent Prime Minister Maliki would want to have this announcement made at this particular time.
Firstly, after a record breaking seven months of inertia there are reports that Maliki is in the home straight of securing his place as Iraq's next Prime Minister. Politics in Iraq has become increasingly sectarian over the past year and Maliki has been forced to court more radical Shi'a parties in order to get over the finishing line in forming a workable coalition. Therefore being seen as hard line on Sunni parties and in particular the idea of De-Ba'athification is bread and butter tactics to bolster his own powerbase. There is no coincidence that Aziz was found guilty of crimes against Maliki's own Da'wa party and it would seem likely that the former deputy Prime Minister will accumulate several more death sentences for crimes against the Kurds, partners in Maliki's likely coalition, before he finally makes his way to the gallows.
Secondly Maliki returned from Iran earlier in the month where he ensured that the powerful influence of Tehran was on his side. The Iranians, having suffered terribly in the bloody eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88), are unlikely to have forgiven Aziz who, as foreign minister for most of the war, was the public face of the regime in Baghdad. Aziz himself was very aware of the new found reach that Iran has in Iraq when he told the Guardian in August that the US departure from the country was in fact "leaving Iraq to the wolves."
Thirdly Maliki needed to regain the initiative after the release of the Wikileaks "Iraq Logs" implicated his office of regularly practicing torture on detainees and running death squads responsible for targeted assassinations against political rivals. Although Maliki came out strongly against the leaks, claiming that they were an attempt to 'derail his attempt to form a government', in truth this is probably the least of his concerns as it may give him the 'strong man' image that many perceive the Iraq public crave in these uncertain times.
Nevertheless the announcement of Aziz's death sentence is a reminder if anyone needed it of the new power alignments in Iraq. The country's judiciary, a sop to Saddam's dictatorship, was decimated along with much of Iraq's professional classes by thirteen years of sanctions followed by the civil war that was unleashed by the 2003 invasion. Its independence and competence are both highly debatable, with its role in barring largely Sunni candidates from the March election evidence of a confused sense of loyalty to a fractured national ideal.
Finally, regardless of the level of influence and access that Aziz has during his time at the higher echelons of Saddam Hussein's regime, he was complicit at best and had blood on his hands at worst in the barbarism that occurred. Sadly however the absence of a transparent system of justice and the politicisation of his trial will mean that whatever secrets Aziz had on the rule of Saddam Hussein will be taken to the grave with him.
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