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Iraqi deal in the works to suspend execution of Saddam-era officials

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Some Iraqis, as well as countries including Italy, oppose the hanging of Mr. Aziz, the international face of the former regime and the only Christian in Hussein’s cabinet, who lawmakers say is now also likely be given a stay of execution. Aziz, in his 80s and in ill health, was transferred to Iraqi custody last year. As a member of Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council, he was sentenced to hang for his role in the regime’s brutal crackdown on Shiite opposition parties.

But it is the planned execution of former Defense minister Sultan Hashim that has threatened to widen political and sectarian rifts at a time while Iraq’s divided coalition government seems to be struggling for survival and embroiled in the decision over whether to ask US troops to stay.

Opposition to Mr. Hashim’s death sentence is strongest in the ex-general’s hometown of Mosul – home to hundreds of former Iraqi Army generals cast aside when the US disbanded the Iraqi Army and still a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency. But he has widespread support among many Iraqis who see him as a nationalist rather than as a part of Hussein’s regime.

“Sultan Hashim was a professional military man, he wasn’t a politician. He was doing his duty to defend Iraq professionally,” says Zuhair al-Araji, former mayor of Mosul and now a member of parliament with the secular al-Iraqiya coalition. “Such professional, nonpolitical figures should not be punished for the mistakes of the regime.”

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