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Son of ex-Iraqi FM Tariq Aziz says his father's health deteriorating, but morale good

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi foreign minister and leading lieutenant of Saddam Hussein, is experiencing deteriorating health in Iraqi detention, although his morale remains strong, his son said Sunday.

Aziz, whose long tenure as the country's top diplomat made him the international face of the Iraqi dictator's regime, surrendered to U.S. forces about a month after the war began in March 2003. He was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 execution of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering, and was handed over last month to Iraqi custody from the U.S.

"My father's health has deteriorated, but his morale is good," Ziad Aziz told The Associated Press.

The elder Aziz, who is now 74, suffers from hypertension and diabetes and had two strokes in the past year. Ziad said his father suffers from back and leg pain, making it impossible for him to walk and forcing him to use a wheelchair to get around.

Aziz also had a gum infection and couldn't wear his dentures, his son said. "He can't eat solid foods," he said.

Ziad Aziz said his mother visited the elder Aziz in his Baghdad prison on July 30 and provided this latest information on his father's health.

Despite fears that Aziz and other former members of Saddam's inner circle may be abused in Iraqi custody, Ziad Aziz said his father has been treated well so far. "His wardens' treatment is excellent, but his cell is bad because it's too small and is shared with another inmate," he said.

He refused to comment on a purported interview his father gave to Britain's Guardian newspaper, in which Aziz appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama to extend the American military presence in Iraq, saying the U.S. leader was leaving it to the "wolves."

Aziz's lawyer, Badee Aref, said his client may have been misquoted because it didn't sound like the way Aziz usually expresses himself.

On Sunday, Aref urged Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Nouri al-Maliki, to release Aziz and 15 other former members of Saddam's regime.

"They're all old and sick and it's necessary to set them free on humanitarian grounds," he said.

Aziz's family has made numerous appeals to the Vatican to intervene for his release. Aziz is one of a few Christians that held high posts in Saddam's government.