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Iraq releases terminally ill Saddam aide
Updated: 2005-05-22 23:03

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi authorities have released a top official in Saddam Hussein's former regime one of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis on the U.S. military's "deck of cards" because he is terminally ill, the justice minister and the suspect's lawyer said Sunday.

Ghazi Hammud al-Obeidi, former regional chairman in the southern Iraqi city of Kut for the former ruling Baath Party, was the first to be released among detained former regime members who were on the most-wanted list.

"Ghazi al-Obeidi is suffering from cancer and according to my information he has been released for health reasons," Justice Minister Abdel Hussein Shandal told The Associated Press. "Only for health reasons."

Shandal did not elaborate, but al-Obeidi's lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, said he was released on April 28 because he was suffering from what appears to be terminal stomach cancer.

The U.S. military would not comment on the case and referred it to Iraqi authorities.

"Those detainees are under the legal custody of the Iraqi government, we only have physical custody," said Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill a spokesman for detention operations in Iraq.

Aref said he met al-Obeidi recently and described his condition as "very bad," adding that he was in a wheel chair.

Al-Obeidi was captured on May 7, 2003, nearly four weeks after the fall of Saddam's regime. He was number 51 on the most-wanted list and was the "two of hearts" in the deck of cards.

"I met him once since his release, his morale was high," Aref said. "I speak to him every day by telephone."

He did not disclose al-Obeidi's location but said they "had permission for him to travel for treatment in Germany."

Aref claimed that permission for his release was given by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

"This release comes in accordance with the Geneva Convention," he said.

Of the 55 most wanted Iraqis, 11 are still at large and the rest have either been captured or killed. Only 52 of the names appeared on the deck of cards issued after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

The most sought after and highest ranking is number six, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the Revolutionary Command Council vice chairman and longtime Saddam confidant.

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