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Saddam Hussein’s top aide Tariq Aziz dies in hospital

Marco di Lauro, AFP file picture | Iraq’s former deputy prime minister Aziz on May 24, 2006

Tariq Aziz, who long served as the voice of Saddam Hussein’s regime, died in an Iraqi hospital Friday aged 79 after many years as a death-row prisoner, officials said.

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Aziz died on Friday afternoon after being taken to the al-Hussein hospital in the city of Nasiriyah, about 320 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, following a heart attack, according to the provincial governor, Yahya al-Nassiri. Aziz had been in custody in a southern prison, awaiting execution.

The highest-ranking Christian in Saddam’s regime, Aziz was sentenced in October 2010 to hang for “deliberate murder and crimes against humanity,” related to his persecution of members of the Shiite Muslim religious parties that now dominate Iraq.

As his death verdict was read in court, Aziz sat alone and silent, grasping a handrail surrounding the defendant’s box. By that time, he had suffered a stroke in jail that had left him badly weakened and temporarily mute.

He was also handed various prison sentences for other crimes.

A recognisable figure

Elegant and eloquent, Aziz spoke fluent English, smoked Cuban cigars and was loyal to Saddam to the last, even naming one of his sons after the dictator. His posts included that of foreign minister and deputy prime minister, and he sat on the Revolutionary Command Council, the highest body in Saddam’s regime.

His main role was as the regime’s mouthpiece for communicating with the West. To the world, he was one of the most recognizable faces from Iraq during Saddam’s rule: silver haired, with a mustache and trademark dark-rimmed glasses. A skilled operator in the halls of the United Nations, he was the also the regime’s front-man in dealing with UN inspectors trying to track and assure the dismantling of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.

As bombs rained down on Baghdad during the US-led 2003 invasion, Aziz said of American forces: “We will receive them with the best music they have ever heard and the best flowers that have ever grown in Iraq ... We don’t have candy; we can only offer them bullets.”

His freedom ended a month after the US-led invasion. American military knocked on his door in Baghdad on April 24, 2003, and he surrendered without resistance.

Aziz is survived by his wife and two sons, Ziad and Saddam, who live in Jordan.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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