|ABDEL-RAHMAN AREF (Associated Press/File 1968)|
Abdel-Rahman Aref, at 91; was former president of Iraq
AMMAN, Jordan -- Former president Abdel-Rahman Aref of Iraq, overthrown more than 35 years ago in a coup that brought Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party to power, died in Amman early Friday. He was 91.
Mr. Aref died at King Hussein Medical Center in the Jordanian capital at dawn, said Tahseen Alwan Ina, the Iraqi charge d'affaires in Amman.
Mr. Aref's family, most of whom live in Jordan, had called to inform him of the death, Ina said. The diplomat had no details on Mr. Aref's health or the circumstances of his death.
"He was a free officer, a military commander, a president of the republic," President Jalal Talabani of Iraq said in a statement. "He was a model of integrity and tolerance."
Mr. Aref, whose rule was considered weak, settled in Jordan after leaving Iraq following the US-led invasion that toppled Hussein in 2003.
He rose to power in 1963, five years after the bloody overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, when his elder brother -- Abdel-Salam Aref, then Iraq's president -- appointed him army chief of staff.
Three years later, the brother died in a plane crash, and Iraqi army officers, said to have been supported by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, chose the younger Aref to become Iraq's third president. The plane crash was believed to have been the result of sabotage.
Mr. Aref was president until 1968, when he was toppled in a bloodless coup by the Ba'ath Party, led at the time by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, who became Iraq's next president. But Hussein was believed to have been the power behind the scenes during the coup and later, until formally taking over the government in 1979.
The reports on the coup said that in the early hours of July 17, 1968, as Mr. Aref slept, Defense Minister Hardan al-Tikriti entered the palace and phoned him to tell him he was no longer president.
Mr. Aref was then hustled onto a plane to London, from where he made his way to Istanbul, where he lived 11 years in exile before he was allowed by Hussein to return in the late 1980s to live out a quiet life in the Iraqi capital.
In 2004, the Iraqi interim government said it would pay Mr. Aref a monthly pension and allocated some funds for his medical treatment in Jordan. It was never made public what kind of health problems Mr. Aref suffered.
Mr. Aref's sister, Sabiha, was killed in 2004 by flying glass from an exploding car bomb near her Baghdad home.
In a rare interview after Hussein's overthrow, Mr. Aref urged Iraqis to forget the past and work for a better future.
"I hope there will be stability and security in all parts of Iraq and neighboring Arab countries," he said in 2003. "I hope they will flourish. I hope there will be national unity in Iraq by forgetting the past and looking for the future."
Mr. Aref leaves his wife, two sons, and three daughters.