Jailed 'voice of Saddam' Tareq Aziz dies in south Iraq

Former Iraqi deputy prime minister, the late Tarek Aziz, testifying for the defence during Saddam's trial (AFP Photo/Marco Di Lauro)

Nasiriyah (Iraq) (AFP) - Tareq Aziz, who served as the voice of Saddam Hussein's regime, died in Iraqi hospital Friday aged 79 after years of poor health as a convicted prisoner, a doctor said.

"Tareq Aziz arrived at the Hussein Teaching Hospital at 3 pm," Dr Saadi al-Majed, the head of the health department in Dhi Qar, the province where he was jailed, told AFP.

"He died because of a heart attack," the doctor said.

Adel Abdulhussein al-Dakhili, the deputy governor of Dhi Qar, confirmed that Aziz died in hospital in Nasiriyah, where the former foreign minister was brought when his health worsened.

Aziz had long been in poor health, suffering from heart and respiratory problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, and his family repeatedly called for his release from custody.

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, neat uniform and large cigar, 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.