Galloway's pledge to Saddam deputy

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The Independent Online

Controversial MP George Galloway has sent a letter of support to Iraq's detained former deputy premier Tariq Aziz, saying he is proud of his friendship despite the enmities those ties have caused.

In the two-page, handwritten letter dated 29 August, obtained by Associated Press from Mr Aziz's lawyer, the MP begins: "Your excellency, dear brother, friend". An official from Mr Galloway's office in London confirmed on Saturday that the letter had been sent.

Mr Aziz was allegedly involved in several party purges in the 1970s and 80s during which an unspecified number of people died.

In his letter, Mr Galloway describes his friend's incarceration as "cruel and unjustified". He writes: "I have thought of you and of the long days and nights we spent in each other's company ...

"I write in the hope that you know of the many battles we fight, here on the outside, for Iraq, for Palestine, for justice everywhere."

The former Baath party official was arrested after Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in 2003 and is being held by US forces in Baghdad under agreement with the Iraqi government. His lawyers have repeatedly sought his release from military custody on medical grounds.

In his letter, Mr Galloway said: "I have made many enemies in this struggle. They are your enemies also. They are my enemies because I am your friend." The letter concluded, "Long live Iraq. Long live Palestine. Free, Arab, dignified."

Mr Galloway has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and US lawmakers have accused him of profiting from the UN oil-for-food programme, a charge which he has denied.

Mr Aziz's lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, said that Mr Galloway gave him the letter when the two met recently in Damascus. Mr Galloway promised to help find 69-year-old Mr Aziz, who suffers from heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure, "the finest European lawyers" to defend him, Mr Aref said.

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