Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz Faces Trial for Executing 42

Tariq Aziz, one of the most famous faces of Saddam Hussein's regime, is to go on trial next week accused of ordering the execution of 42 merchants for increasing food prices in 1992.

Mr. Aziz, the former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, was the only Christian in the top ranks of the Baath party, and often acted as the regime's spokesman and negotiator. Speaking excellent English, he was always an effective speaker at meetings and press conferences.

The charges against him are a little surprising since the execution of the merchants from Shurja market in Baghdad was always attributed directly to Saddam Hussein. The regime itself referred to them as "martyr's to the moment of rage" and was apologetic about their fate.

Mr. Aziz, who comes from a Christian village east of Mosul, was always a loyal party member though never in the very inner circle of the regime because he was not a Sunni and was not related to Saddam Hussein.

Other defendants who will stand trial with him are Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan, a half-brother of Saddam Hussein, and the former Central Bank governor, Issam Mula Hawish.

As UN sanctions began to destroy the Iraqi economy after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, prices soared in the Shurja wholesale market in east Baghdad, and Saddam Hussein accused businessmen of manipulating prices. Some 42 of them were rounded up, given a quick trial and then executed.

The trial will upset the remaining Christians in Iraq who saw Mr. Aziz as defending their interests and viewed his high position as a sign that they could be promoted by merit.

Though inwardly skeptical about the wisdom of invading Kuwait and other ventures by Saddam, Mr. Aziz masked his doubts. He was also an effective negotiator during the years in which UN inspectors were hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

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