Former Iraqi deputy PM Tariq Aziz dies in prison

Aziz, who was Saddam’s deputy PM and foreign minister, surrendered to US forces in 2003 and had been a prisoner since.

Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, has died in prison aged 79 years old.

Iraqi officials said Aziz, who was one of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s top deputies, died on Friday afternoon after suffering a heart attack on Thursday.

Al Jazeera has learned that Aziz’s son, Ziad, expressed outrage that Iraqi officials had not informed him of his father’s death, and he had instead found out through local media reports.

Aziz was Iraq’s foreign minister between 1983 and 1991 and deputy prime minister between 1979 and 2003.

Born Mikhail Yuhanna in 1936, Aziz was the highest ranking Christian official under Saddam’s presidency and a member of the former ruling Baath Party’s inner circle.

He was sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal in 2010 for his role in human rights abuses committed under the former government, which was overthrown in 2003 when Iraq was invaded by a US-led alliance.

Iraq’s public face

Aziz surrendered to US forces shortly after the invasion and had been a prisoner since.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said Aziz was one of the most hated figures from the old regime and Iraqi TV stations had largely ignored his death.

Inside Story: Iraq 10 years after the invasion

“There will be no eulogies for him, no day of mourning for him. He was hated as a member of the former regime,” he said.

One of the best known faces of Saddam’s Iraq, Aziz travelled globally where he defended his leader against the many accusations of alleged human rights abuses.

When the US prepared for its campaign to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait prior to the first Gulf War, Aziz hit out at Arab states, calling them “subservient Arab weaklings”.

Aziz remained loyal to his boss in the aftermath of defeat during that war, and through the 12 years of sanctions that followed.

In the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Aziz was the “eight of spades” on the famous deck of cards of Iraq’s most wanted released by US authorities.

“He was always seen as someone who could try and prevent the impending US invasion. He was always seen as a diplomat,” Al Jazeera’s Khan said.

Source: Al Jazeera