Jailed ‘voice of Saddam’ Tariq Aziz dies in Iraq: Provincial official

Tareq Aziz who served as the international voice of Iraq's ousted president Saddam Hussein's regime died on Friday in hospital after several years of poor health in jail, a provincial official said. -- PHOTO: AFP  
Tareq Aziz who served as the international voice of Iraq's ousted president Saddam Hussein's regime died on Friday in hospital after several years of poor health in jail, a provincial official said. -- PHOTO: AFP  

NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AFP) - Tariq Aziz, who served as the voice of Saddam Hussein's regime, died in Iraqi hospital on Friday aged 79 after many years of poor health as a convicted prisoner, a provincial official said.

"Tariq Aziz died in Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah," where he was brought when his health worsened, Adel Abdulhussein al-Dakhili, deputy governor of Dhi Qar province, where the former Iraqi foreign minister was jailed, told AFP.

Dakhili did not specify what Aziz died from, but he had long been in poor health, suffering from heart and respiratory problems, high blood pressure and diabetes.

His family repeatedly called for his release from custody, and in 2011, his lawyer said Aziz wanted then-premier Nuri al-Maliki to accelerate his execution due to his worsening health.

Aziz was found guilty of "deliberate murder and crimes against humanity" for a crackdown on religious parties in the 1980s, and was sentenced to death in October 2010.

He was also handed various prison sentences for other crimes.

As Saddam's principal spokesman, the bespectacled Aziz - the only Christian in the now-executed dictator's inner circle - was a recognisable figure internationally whose rise was attributed to unswerving loyalty to Saddam.

Once omnipresent, haranguing the international media and instantly recognisable in his trademark thick glasses and neat uniform, Aziz turned himself over to American custody a month after the US-led invasion of March 2003.

Named foreign minister in 1983 and then deputy premier in 1991, Aziz was believed to have wielded little real power over decision-making, but was one of the regime's best-known figures abroad.