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The Times and the Tariq Aziz Death Sentence

On October 26, 2010, the NYT reported that Tariq Aziz had been sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. Aziz went back to the beginning with Saddam and was both his foreign minister and then was moved up to deputy prime minister. What I wanted to write about is how the Times story gets it wrong and misses the real story.

First, the article's author Jack Healy says that Aziz was "sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Tuesday, convicted of crimes against members of rival Shiite political parties." Now to me this sounds like Healy is indicating that Aziz is himself Shia. He's not. He's Chaldean Christian. Alternately, Healy could be saying that Aziz was sentenced for crimes against various Shiite groups who are now at odds with each other. However, this too is false. Aziz was sentenced to death for crimes against members of only one Shiite group, Maliki's Dawa party.

And therein lies the story that the Times does not tell. Maliki himself along with most of the Dawa leadership fled to Iran in 1979. The following year about six months before the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war, Dawa party members tried to assassinate Aziz. 1980 was also the year in which Maliki was sentenced in absentia to death by the Saddam regime. Maliki has scores to settle and he is settling them.

Later, Healy writes the following:

In March 2009, Mr. Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity, but he was acquitted earlier that month on charges of ordering a 1999 crackdown against Shiite protesters after a revered Shiite cleric was assassinated. He is also serving a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.

So Aziz was convicted of crimes against humanity, crimes against the Kurds, and crimes against Dawa. But he was acquitted of responsibility in the "1999 crackdown against Shiite protesters after a revered Shiite cleric was assassinated." Healy never mentions who this revered cleric was. It was, in fact, Mohammed al Sadr along with two of his sons. Sadr City was named after him, and Muqtada al Sadr is another of his sons.

Me, I think this is pertinent information. It says a lot about the calculus of power in the current, albeit weak, Iraqi government. If you crossed the Kurds in the past, you get a jail sentence. If you crossed Dawa, you get the death penalty. And if you crossed rivals of Dawa, like the Sadrists, you get acquitted. I'm not trying to whitewash Aziz's culpability in any way here. I'm just trying to point out the politics.

And those politics extend to this country and the Times --in the reticence of the NYT to even invoke the Sadr connection because the Sadrists, being nationalists, wouldn't play ball with the American occupation, and this offended neocon sensibilities, like those of the Times, no end and still do.

Healy tries to cast this all in terms of the wikileaks releases but this is another example of reading the Washington narrative on to events in Iraq and completely missing how this sentence reflects purely internal Iraqi politics and how it disses everyone outside of Dawa to varying degrees and the kind of leader and politician Maliki is that he would do this dissing. You see Aziz wasn't being sentenced for his crimes against Iraq, but his crimes against Dawa.

Nor is it like we haven't seen this before. The same thing happened to Saddam Hussein. Maliki short circuited Saddam's trial for the Anfal campaign against the Kurds and had him executed for his previous conviction for the Dujail massacre in 1982. These reprisals took place after a failed assassination attempt, again by Dawa operatives, against him in the town of that name. It was crimes against Dawa, not crimes against Iraq, that did him in.

Healy misses this dynamic entirely. For me though, it speaks volumes about Maliki and the kind of party before country man that he is. It explains both why a political settlement will never happen in Iraq and why it will remain unstable. No one can look beyond their own narrow sectarian interests. The problems are intractable because the country's leaders are.

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