June 5 (Reuters) - Tariq Aziz, who was foreign minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, has died in prison, Iraqi officials said on Friday. He was 79.
Aziz surrendered in April 2003 to the U.S. invasion force that overthrew Saddam. He was sentenced to death seven years later for the persecution of Islamic parties under Saddam.
He had long complained of ill health during his detention.
Dr Saadi al-Majid, head of the health department of Dhi Qar governorate, where Aziz was being held, confirmed Aziz's death:
"Tariq Aziz arrived at al-Nasiriya Educational hospital suffering from a severe heart attack. He had heart complications that led to his death at 3 p.m. (1200 GMT)."
The governor of Dhi Qar, Yahya al-Nasiri, said the body would be handed over to Aziz's relatives in Iraq "as soon as our routine procedures and investigations are concluded."
Aziz's son Zaid told Reuters in Amman that Aziz's wife had visited him in prison on Thursday and had asked the prison authorities to take him to hospital. He said the prison had refused, though this could not be confirmed independently.
"His voice was deteriorating but he was not dying," Zaid said.
Aziz, a fluent English speaker, played a prominent diplomatic role in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, when a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, as well as in the long-running disputes over United Nations weapons inspections in subsequent years.
A Chaldean Christian, he was born in the village of Tal Keif, near Mosul in northern Iraq. His association with Saddam dated back to the 1950s, when the two men were involved in the then-outlawed Baath party, which sought to oust the British-backed monarchy.
Aziz was appointed minister of information in the 1970s. In 1977, he joined the Revolutionary Command Council, the committee of senior Baath party officials ruling Iraq, and in 1979, he became deputy prime minister.
Aziz was number 43 on the U.S. list of most wanted Iraqi officials when he gave himself up just two weeks after Saddam was toppled.
(Reporting by Baghdad bureau, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Robin Pomeroy, Dominic Evans and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)