Tariq Aziz salutes as the Iraqi national anthem is played during a 2001 event.

Story highlights

Governing coalition member: Aziz will be put to death after U.S. forces leave

"It will definitely take place," says Saad Yousif al-Muttalibi

A lawyer for Aziz says the decision is "stupid" and rooted in politics

Amnesty International, the Vatican criticize the verdict

Baghdad CNN  — 

A member of Iraq’s governing coalition has told CNN he expects Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s top diplomat under Saddam Hussein, to be executed next year.

Saad Yousif al-Muttalibi said in an interview in Baghdad: “It will definitely take place, and it will take place after the Americans leave Iraq.”

A lawyer for Aziz, who served as foreign minister and later deputy prime minister, said he was surprised. “I did not expect the government would be that stupid; by doing this they will drag this country to the edge of the abyss,” said Badi Arif in a telephone interview.

“What about the national reconciliation that this government has been calling for? The government’s position will be even weaker if they carry out the execution after the American troops leave the country and this will lead to more conflict among Iraqi factions.”

A Justice Ministry official said the execution of Aziz, like those of other former regime members, will be carried out once the Presidency Council ratifies the order and hands it over to the ministry. The execution “is not linked and has never been linked to the U.S. military presence nor to political pressure,” the official said.

Separately, a new law is under consideration that would require death sentences be ratified by the president within 15 days of their being handed down, al-Muttalibi said.

Al-Muttalibi added that all of Iraqi society, including members of the three main sectarian groups – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – favor the law.

Aziz was captured by U.S. forces in April 2003, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Hussein. He appeared frail when he testified in Hussein’s 2006 trial on war crimes charges, for which the ousted dictator was hanged later that year.

Aziz was sentenced to death in October 2010 by the Iraqi High Tribunal for his role in eliminating religious parties during Hussein’s regime.

His family was shocked by the verdict, his daughter told CNN at the time.

“My father served his country for more than 22 years. He delivered himself to the U.S. Army (after the fall of Hussein) because he wasn’t afraid. He didn’t do anything wrong. He served his country,” Aziz’s daughter, Zainab Aziz, said. “He has been wronged.”

Arif said last year that there was a political motive behind the death sentence.

“Mr. Aziz used to always tell me, ‘They’ll find a way to kill me, and there is no way for me to escape this,’” Arif told CNN. “But from a legal perspective, this sentence is wrong; this is illegal and this is unexpected.”

Aziz served as deputy prime minister from 1981 to 2003, also holding the post of foreign minister for part of that time.

After the verdict was announced, Amnesty International urged Iraq not to carry out the sentences, even as it acknowledged the brutality of Hussein’s regime.

“Saddam Hussein’s rule was synonymous with executions, torture and other gross human rights violations, and it is right that those who committed crimes are brought to justice,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa in 2010.

“However, it is vital that the death penalty, which is the ultimate denial of human rights, should never be used, whatever the gravity of the crime,” he said in a written statement.

The Vatican also opposed the death sentence, spokesman Federico Lombardi told CNN.

“This is not the most adequate way to promote reconciliation and reconstruction of justice and peace in a country that has suffered so much,” he said.

CNN’s Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this story