Baghdad, Iraq A pajama-clad Tariq Aziz, once the most prominent public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, defended his former boss in court Wednesday and said Iraq's current Shiite leaders should be on trial for attempts to kill him and Saddam in the 1980s.
The 70-year-old Aziz, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, appeared thin and pale in his checkered pajamas and wore what looked like a hospital bracelet on his right wrist. His family has said he suffers from heart trouble.
Aziz insisted Saddam had no choice but to crack down in the Shiite town of Dujail after a July 8, 1982, shooting attack on his motorcade there, blamed on the Shiite Dawa Party backed by Iran.
"It was an assassination attempt against the president, and this party also tried to assassinate me in 1980," Aziz said. "If the head of state comes under attack, the state is required by law to take action. If the suspects are caught with weapons, it's only natural they should be arrested and put on trial."
Hundreds of men, women and children were arrested by security forces after the assassination attempt. Some prisoners allegedly were tortured to death and 148 Shiites were ordered sent to the gallows by Saddam's Revolutionary Court for alleged roles in the attempt.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants could be hanged if convicted of crimes against humanity for their involvement in the crackdown.
The defense has been making its case for the past two weeks. A series of defense witnesses took the stand Wednesday - including former Saddam bodyguards - and testified that the Dujail shooting was a serious attack on the then-president.
Aziz insisted Saddam did not bring up Dujail during later government meetings and never ordered co-defendants Barzan Ibrahim, the former Mukhabarat intelligence chief, or Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former Revolutionary Command Council member, to carry out the wave of arrests in Dujail.
Though his voice was hoarse, Aziz spoke firmly and gave a lively denunciation of the Dawa Party, to which the head of Iraq's current government, Nouri al-Maliki, and his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, belong. He said Dawa Party activists threw a hand grenade at him during an April 1980 visit to Baghdad's Mustansiriya University, an attack he claimed killed dozens of students.
When Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman told him to stick to the Dujail case, he protested that the Dujail shooting was "part of a series of attacks and assassination attempts by this group."
"I'm a victim of a criminal act conducted by this party, which is in power right now. So put it on trial. Its leader was the prime minister and his deputy is the prime minister right now, and they killed innocent Iraqis in 1980," he said.