BAGHDAD, (AP) – The U.S. has handed over 55 former members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, including the longtime international face of the regime, Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s deputy justice minister said Wednesday.
The announcement comes a day before U.S. authorities are to transfer authority of Camp Cropper, the last American-run detention facility to the Iraqi government.
Iraq’s deputy justice minister Busho Ibrahim told The Associated Press that the handover has taken place over the last three days, starting on Monday.
“As of today, we have received 55 former regime officials, the main one is Tariq Aziz, and the others are the oil and culture ministers,” he said, adding that they have also received Saddam’s former secretary Abed Hmoud, as well as the former education and trade ministers in Saddam’s regime.
“We will receive more tomorrow but I have no information about that, and we don’t have the list,” the deputy justice minister said.
The U.S. military confirmed that some detainees had been handed over but did not provide identities.
Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy operations director of the Iraqi military, and Sultan Hashim al-Taie, the former defense minister, were not handed over, the Iraqi official said.
As of Thursday, Iraqi security officials will control Camp Cropper, and the U.S. will hand over roughly 1,600 Iraqi prisoners currently in American custody. However, U.S. military officials have said previously that about 200 prisoners will remain in American custody at the request of Iraqi officials.
The handover is part of U.S. plans to draw down to 50,000 troops by the end of August in anticipation of all American forces leaving by the end of next year.
Aziz, the only Christian in Saddam’s mainly Sunni regime, became internationally known as the dictator’s defender and a fierce American critic as foreign minister after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which led to the Gulf War, and later as a deputy prime minister who frequently traveled abroad on diplomatic missions.
His meeting with Secretary of State James A. Baker in Geneva in January 1991 failed to prevent the 1991 Gulf War.
Years later, Aziz met with the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican just weeks before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion in a bid to head off that conflict.
He was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison on two separate trials of the former regime members.
His family has frequently mentioned his deteriorating health in while he was in custody of U.S. forces and on trial in an Iraqi court.
In January, the 74-year-old Aziz suffered a stroke and was rushed to a hospital in Balad, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Baghdad.