Iraq govt wants Aziz to die in prison: son

photo_1279105224274-1-0_01.jpgFormer Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz testifies for the defence during Saddam’s trial in Baghdad in 2006. The Iraqi government wants jailed former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz to die in prison and has shown no compassion for his declining health, his Amman-based son said. AFP – The Iraqi government wants jailed former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz to die in prison and has shown no compassion for his declining health, his Amman-based son said on Monday.

The warders of 74-year-old Aziz at Kadhmiyah jail in northern Baghdad want the ex-top official who cut an urbane and articulate figure in Saddam Hussein’s regime “to die in prison,” said his embittered son, Ziad.

Ziad Aziz insisted that “there are no indications the government plans to release my father.”

“They want him to die in prison. If they were really concerned about his health, they would have provided him with proper health care and sent him to hospital,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile, Badie Aref, a lawyer also based in Jordan of the former deputy premier and foreign minister, said Baghdad was considering an early release on compassionate grounds due to his ailing health.

One of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office directors had “called today to inform me that the government is thinking about releasing Aziz because of his bad health,” said Aref.

“The official said the Iraqi government could meet to pardon Aziz with permission from President Jalal Talabani,” the lawyer said.

Aref said the Baghdad government “realises that Aziz has become too old to be involved in politics, and it does not want him to die in prison … They sympathise with him and understand his situation.”

But in Baghdad, a senior aide to Maliki denied any such plans. “We are not considering releasing Tareq Aziz, and this is not one of Maliki’s powers. This is totally untrue,” he said, declining to be named.

Earlier this month, Ziad Aziz said his father could no longer walk after a serious deterioration in his health, adding that he also had gum infection and could not use his teeth.

Aziz already suffers from diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure. His family has repeatedly appealed for his release, particularly after a heart attack in late 2007.

One of Saddam’s few surviving top cohorts, Aziz, a Christian and aficionado of Cuban cigars before the change of regime, turned himself in to US forces in April 2003, days the fall of Baghdad.

In 2009, he was jailed for 15 years for the 1992 execution of 42 Baghdad wholesalers and separately given a seven-year term for his role in expelling Kurds from Iraq’s north. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Named foreign minister in 1983 and then deputy prime minister in 1991, Aziz was believed to have wielded little real power of decision-making.

But the fluent English speaker became one of the regime’s best-known figures abroad as his master’s voice. Saddam was said to have listened to the widely travelled, avuncular figure who often outwitted Western peers in debate.

Born in the northern town of Sinjar on February 1, 1936, Aziz was from a Chaldean Catholic family. He changed his given name, Michael Yuhanna, to allay any Arab nationalist hostility to his Christian background.

Aziz had known Saddam — who was toppled in the invasion and then executed under the Shiite-dominated new regime — since the 1950s but was kept outside the closed Sunni circle of the president’s clansmen from the town of Tikrit.