Iraq's judiciary denies deal to commute French jihadist death sentences

A combination of file pictures obtained on May 29, 2019, shows eight of the 11 French nationals sentenced to death in Iraq for joining the Islamic State group (AFP Photo/-) (AFP/File)

Baghdad (AFP) - Iraq's judiciary on Tuesday denied it had struck a deal with Paris to commute the death sentences of French nationals convicted in Baghdad for belonging to the Islamic State group.

A Baghdad court issued death sentences in recent weeks for 11 Frenchmen transferred to Iraqi custody from neighbouring Syria, where they were caught fighting for IS.

Only an appeals court -- not a bilateral agreement -- can change their sentences, according to Abdalsattar Bayraqdar, spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council.

"The sentences issued by Iraqi courts can only be reviewed by the court of cassation -- which has the prerogative under the law to reaffirm the sentence or alter it depending on the circumstances of each crime -- and not through deals between countries," he said on Tuesday.

His statement comes after reports that Iraq's government had struck a deal with Paris to commute the French citizens' death sentences in exchange for money.

The 11 sentences are still not final.

According to Iraqi law, defendants have 30 days to appeal any sentence and for those facing the gallows, the appeal is automatically referred to the cassation court.

There, it will be reviewed by 12 judges, according to Mudhaffar Jaryan, a lawyer for one of the convicted men.

"The prerogatives of the cassation court are to either confirm the sentence, which becomes obligatory, or to lighten it -- or to order a retrial if it found insufficient evidence," he told AFP.

Jaryan said he was preparing an appeal for a retrial on behalf of his client Bilel Kabaoui, 32, who was sentenced on June 3.

He argues that Kabaoui had not fought in Iraq and therefore should not be tried there, and that the taped confessions used by prosecutors included many contradictions.

Iraqi courts have convicted more than 500 foreign nationals for IS membership since 2018, most of them captured on Iraqi territory.

They are now trying accused foreign IS members who were captured in neighbouring Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and transferred to Iraqi custody by the coalition fighting the jihadists.

Iraqi government sources have told AFP that Baghdad would be willing to try hundreds more foreign fighters in exchange for $2 million (1.8 million euros) for each defendant.

Iraq argues its courts can try jihadists captured outside its territory because they provided material support to IS operations inside Iraq.

Its judiciary has issued dozens of death sentences for foreigners convicted of IS membership but has not carried them out.

One of them, a German woman, saw her death penalty commuted to a life sentence on appeal.