BAGHDAD, May 20 Iraqi security forces under Saddam Hussein executed traders for breaking price controls and then banned their families from giving them proper funerals, a witness in the trial of a top Saddam aide said on Tuesday.
Ex-Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, accused of playing a role in the execution of dozens of traders, denied involvement. Aziz, who was the public face of Saddam's regime, went on trial last month.
They were executed after being accused of breaking price controls imposed in the wake of U.N. sanctions on Iraq in 1990s.
Aziz appeared in court wearing a grey suit and supported by a walking stick, a far cry from the once confident diplomat who exhibited faultless English and strong nerves in Iraq's crises.
Witness Abdul-Amir Jabbar Nadir said one of his brothers and father, then 75, were executed alongside other merchants.
After enquiring about their fate, he was told his relatives were at the morgue and that a funeral should not be held.
"On that day, security forces tied the merchants to posts and said 'they are greedy merchants, spit on them'," Abdul-Amir told the court located in one of Saddam's palace compounds.
The only Christian in Saddam's inner circle, Aziz rose to prominence in the world media around the 1991 Gulf War but he also featured prominently in Iraq's conflict with Iran from 1980-1988, helping to win U.S. support.
Aziz was joined by his seven co-defendants in the case. The 72-year-old Aziz, who often appeared at news conferences calmly smoking a cigar when Iraq was under intense international pressure, is reported to be in poor health.
"We ask that the court decides on a suitable punishment that will ease the hearts of the widows," prosecutor Adnan Ali said. "There was a systematic campaign ... under cover of darkness."
GAVE HIMSELF UP
The court session was the first time Aziz has faced any charges since giving himself up to U.S. troops in April 2003.
His lawyers were not present and Aziz's son, Ziad, told Reuters that one French and three Italian lawyers representing him had been denied visas by Iraqi embassies in Rome and Paris. The government was not immediately available for comment.
In his own defence, Aziz told the court that being a top aide to Saddam did not by itself implicate him in the executions.
"This is a selective process wrought by the personal motivations of those intent on destroying Aziz," Aziz said.
Other defendants include Saddam's half brothers Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan, then interior minister, and Sabaawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a former security official.
Another was Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed. Majeed was sentenced to death in June for his role in Saddam's "Anfal" 1980s military campaign which killed tens of thousands of Kurds.
A former finance minister, central bank governor and two senior Baath party members also faced the Iraqi High Tribunal.
The tribunal was set up to try former members of Saddam's government. Saddam was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity.