Saddam lieutenant dies in custody

Mon Dec 5, 1:25 PM ET

BAGHDAD (AFP) - One of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's closest aides and a figure on the US playing card deck of most-wanted Iraqis died last week in US custody, the military said.

Mohammed Hamza al-Zubaidi, Iraq's prime minister in the early 1990s, died in a US military hospital on December 2, according to Lieutenant Colonel Guy Rudisill, spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq.

His identity had not been previously made public to give time for his next of kin to be informed, US military officials said.

He was only mentioned in a US military statement on Saturday as an unidentified security detainee who was "pronounced dead by the attending physician at the 344th Corps Support Hospital at 7:30am on December 2."

The cause of death was unclear.

Zubaidi's identity inadvertently came to light during Monday's session of the trial of Saddam and his deputies when Saddam's half brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, cited Zubaidi's death as a reason not to use the US military's detainee medical facilities.

Barzan is suffering from cancer and has asked to be transferred to a hospital -- a request granted by the court.

"All detainees, doesn't matter what their rank is, receive the same high quality medical care as our soldiers," Rudisill said in defense of the facilities.

"If there's something wrong with me, I go to the 344th facility," Rudisill added.

Zubaidi, the Queen of Spades in the deck of most-wanted Iraqi playing cards issued by the US government during the war in Iraq, was prime minister of Iraq from 1991 until 1993, when the post went to Saddam.

Although a Shiite himself, Zubaidi is said to have played a key role in Iraq's brutal suppression of the Shiite Muslim uprising of 1991, and was featured in Iraqi news footage kicking and beating captured Shiite rebels.

He was a member of the Revolutionary Command Council and the commander of the Central Euphrates military district, but had not been in power for two years when he was captured on April 20, 2003 near the small city of Mahaweel.