Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister -- and the international face of Saddam Hussein's regime -- has been sentenced to death by hanging.
The country's supreme criminal court said Aziz was sentenced to hang for his role in persecuting religious parties.
"The court has issued death sentence to Tariq Aziz in accordance with Article 406 from Iraqi criminal law of 1969," chief judge Mahmud al-Hassen announced.
The court also issued death sentences for former Interior Minister and intelligence chief Sadun Shakir and Hussein's former secretary, Abd Hammud.
Court spokesman Muhammad Abd al-Sahib said all three were sentenced for their role in a crackdown on members of Shi'ite religious parties in the 1980s.
During Hussein's regime only the Baath Party was allowed to exist. Members of opposition political organizations and other Islamic parties -- such as the Shi'ite Al-Dawah Party of current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- were assassinated, imprisoned, or forced into exile.
The April 5, 1980, killing of Mohammed Baqr al-Sadr, the founder of the Dawa party, was one of the charges against Aziz.
Abdul-Sahib said that Aziz and the other defendants are expected to appeal the sentences.
Iraqi law provides an automatic appeal for all death and life-imprisonment sentences, even if the defendants do not lodge it themselves. If the appeal's court upholds the death sentence the law states Aziz should be hanged within 30 days of the final decision.
Aziz can appeal the sentence, but it was not immediately clear whether his lawyer, Badi Izzat Arif, would do so. The death sentences also have to be confirmed by the Presidential Council before being carried out.
"According to the Federal Court's opinion, the verdict must be approved by the Presidency Council, and the Presidency Council has not yet approved it," said Fadhel Muhammad Jawad, legal advisor to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in an interview with Radio Free Iraq in Baghdad. "And so, if the verdict gets no approval from the Presidency Council, the verdict will remain pending."
'Act Of Revenge'
It's the third conviction for the 74-year-old Aziz, a Christian who was appointed deputy prime minister in 1991 after rising to prominence as Iraq's foreign minister.
In 2009 Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the 1992 execution of 42 merchants, and an additional seven years in jail for his part in expelling Kurds from northern Iraq during Hussein's rule. He pleaded not guilt to all counts.
Aziz's son Ziad, who is based in Jordan, told AFP the latest sentence proved that recent exposures by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks on the war in Iraq were true.
Ziad Aziz, who has lived with his family in Amman since 2003, described the court decision as "an act of revenge against anybody and anything related to the past."
On October 23 WikiLeaks published nearly 400,000 classified U.S. military documents on Iraq, including reports of Iraqi forces abusing detainees. The website's founder, Julian Assange, said the documents showed the war was "a bloodbath on every corner."
Aziz's Jordan-based lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, also claimed the sentence is connected to the WikiLeaks revelations, accusing the Iraqi government of trying to divert attention from the documents.
He added that the sentence was unexpected.
"Legally speaking, this sentence is excessive and unfair. We never expected this sentence," Aref said. "I received a verbal message from Tariq Aziz and court members told me he was shocked and remains in shock."
Aziz turned himself in to U.S. forces in 2003 shortly after the U.S.-led invasion and is one of Hussein's few surviving top cronies. He was turned over to Iraqi prison authorities this year.
In an August interview with Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper -- the first face-to-face interview Aziz gave since before Hussein's regime fell -- he said that he could not be blamed for any of the regime's crimes.
"All decisions were taken by President Saddam Hussein. I held a political position, I did not participate in any of the crimes that were raised against me personally. Out of hundreds of complaints, nobody has mentioned me in person," he reportedly said.
"I don't say that I am a great man and that I was correct in everything that I did. But I am proud of my life because my best intention was to serve Iraq. There were mistakes though, there were things that were not completely correct."
He also chastised U.S. President Barack Obama for "leaving Iraq to the wolves" and called for him to continue the occupation.
compiled from agency reports with contributions from Radio Free Iraq's Ghassan Ali