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The Former Face Of The Saddam Hussein Regime Dies In Prison

Tariq Aziz was deputy prime minister when he surrendered to U.S. forces in 2003.

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Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi foreign minister who was for years the face of the Saddam Hussein regime, has died in prison of a heart attack, Iraqi officials said Friday.

A longtime member of Hussein's cabinet, Aziz — who was also the only Christian in the Iraqi dictator's inner circle — served as Iraq's chief face to the world. Between 1979 and 2003, Aziz was Iraq's deputy prime minister, answerable only to Hussein on matters of foreign policy. That tenure spanned through the decade-long Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War in 1991, and the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"I have always said that the decision we took in August 1990 was a defensive decision," Aziz insisted in a Frontline interview in 2000, commenting on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. "Iraq did not need Kuwait. If we had Kuwait in our mind for takeover, we could have done that in the '70s."

Following the downfall of Hussein's government, Aziz turned himself in to coalition forces, cooperating with investigations and naming names when it came to the "Oil for Food" scandal and extrajudicial killings under Saddam.

After initially being acquitted of various alleged crimes committed during his time in office, an Iraqi panel sentenced Aziz to death for crimes against humanity in 2010. That order was never carried out, as former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani refused to sign off on the execution. "I sympathize with Tariq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian," Talabani said at the time. "Moreover he is an old man who is over 70."

As of 2013, Aziz was still in prison and reportedly depressed about his age and deteriorating condition. "I will now write an appeal to the pope," he told his lawyer, according to an interview with AFP. "Even though I have never met him in person, I will call for him to end my misery, because I would prefer to be executed rather than stay in this condition.”

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

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