BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi lawyer said Friday that one of Saddam Hussein's (search) former top scientists, known as "Mrs. Anthrax," has cancer and is dying in U.S. custody where she has been held for more than a year.
A U.S. military spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq refused to comment on the report that Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash (search) has cancer.
"I am not able to discuss the health condition of our detainees," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson. "Certainly we have medical care available to take care of any detainee."
Ammash, a top Baath party (search) official and biotech researcher who got her nickname for her alleged role in trying to develop bio-weapons for Saddam, is one of two women incarcerated by the U.S. military at an undisclosed location along with other top members of Saddam's regime.
The other female detainee is Rihab Rashid Taha, a scientist who became known as "Dr. Germ" for helping Iraq make weapons out of anthrax.
Lawyer Badee Izzat Aref said he was told by his jailed client, former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, that Ammash had cancer and her health was deteriorating.
"He (Aziz) strongly urged me to do all I can regarding the case of Mrs. Huda Ammash because her health is worsening due to cancer," Aref told Al-Arabiya satellite network. "It will lead to her death, no doubt."
Aref called upon Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, President Bush, the Red Cross and other international organizations to "uphold their responsibilities and release her."
"I wanted to address the international public opinion and call for immediate intervention because she is dying," he said.
Aref met with Aziz — Iraq's former deputy prime minister and foreign minister — for five hours on Dec. 23 at a detention center near Baghdad in the presence of the U.S. military.
It was not immediately clear how Aziz could have obtained the information about Ammash's health. Aref had said Aziz told him that he meets with other top Baathist detainees, excluding Saddam, during a three-hour break everyday.
The case of Ammash and Taha grabbed new attention in September when militants beheaded two American hostages after demanding the release of female detainees in Iraq. The U.S. military says the two scientists are the only women it holds among a detainee population of some 5,000.