Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has said that he will not sign off on a death penalty sentence against Tariq Aziz, seen by many as the international face of Saddam Hussein's government.

“I cannot sign an order of this kind because I am a Socialist,” Mr. Talabani told France 24 TV, in an interview aired on Wednesday. “I feel compassion for Tariq Aziz because he is a Christian, an Iraqi Christian.”

“In addition, he is an elderly man aged over 70 and this is why I will never sign this order,” Mr. Talabani said in Arabic through a translator.

The 74-year-old Aziz was the highest-ranking Christian in Saddam Hussein's inner circle.

He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging on October 26 for his role in persecuting members of the Shia religious parties that now dominate the country.

Aziz has already been convicted in two other cases, receiving a combined 22 years in prison. In an interview with

The Associated Press this summer, Aziz predicted he would die in prison.

More In: International | News