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Will Iraq’s Sultan Hashem and Tareq Aziz be released?

If the Sunni Sultan Hashem and the Christian Tareq Aziz are released, political reconciliation would see a real beginning

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

In 2007, TIME magazine reported how Sultan Hashem, the defense minister during Saddam Hussein's era, escaped execution just five hours before he was scheduled to be hanged. Hashem's life was spared after his American jailor refused to hand him over to Iraqi executioners under the excuse of incomplete paperwork. Hashem’s controversial character continued to express the state of political and sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Recently there have been reports on Prime Minister-designate Haidar Abadi's intent to release Hashem and Tareq Aziz - who was a foreign affairs minister and deputy prime minister during Saddam Hussein's era - within the context of comprehensive political reconciliation in the country. This amnesty would mark the end of the era of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is blamed for the fall out which almost destroyed the state and sparked a civil war.

TIME reported that former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and his deputy Tareq al-Hashimi were against executing public figures and leaders and warned the U.S. of submitting to Maliki's demands. Unfortunately when the Americans left Iraq, they handed the country to Maliki without any restraints whatsoever. Maliki exploited his powers. This is definitely part of the growing anger against presidential, security and judicial state institutions. During his eight years in power, Maliki targeted his rivals on sectarian, ethnic and partisan levels without taking into consideration the country's sensitivities and without respecting the rules of justice.

One of Maliki's acquaintances told me that the outgoing prime minister thought it would be easy to adopt the approach of Khomeini's revolution in Iran. Khomeini had one project and it was to eradicate all parties who disagreed with him from the political scene. Tehran's rebels killed more than 40,000 people in kangaroo courts, and they did not only eliminate the Shah's followers but also eliminated their leftist and nationalist partners.

However Iraq has been a complex sectarian and ethnic country since centuries. Even when Britain colonized it, it did not ignore the country's tribal, sectarian and regional considerations. This is what enabled Britain to control Iraq between the two world wars.

A respected figure?

Hashem was a military figure who received orders during the era of dictator Saddam Hussein. Other than that, many, including his enemies, testified in his favor and said he's a respected figure. This is what American general David Petraeus who detained him in 2003 wrote about him as he intervened when he called for his execution to not go ahead, saying that Hashem voluntarily handed himself over. More than one source confirmed that Hashem chose not to confront the invasion when it first began in 2003 because he thought it was a lost war. His choice was against the orders of Saddam and this is why the invasion's losses on both sides were less than the preliminary estimates of experts.

If the Sunni Sultan Hashem and the Christian Tareq Aziz are released, political reconciliation would see a real beginning

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

As for Tareq Aziz, Maliki received plenty of letters from across the world calling for having mercy upon him and for releasing him, especially as he is sick. However, Maliki chose to keep him in jail realizing that executing him would spark global protests against him.

If the Sunni Sultan Hashem and the Christian Tareq Aziz are released, political reconciliation would see a real beginning and would send significant messages, such as Haidar Abadi government being serious about moving to a new phase and that it truly will exit Maliki's era. There's a list of demands that are many, but reasonable, just and achievable. Some of these demands are to end acts of vendetta and enter a new phase which maintains the country's unity and power.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 7, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.