Abd al-Amir Allawi

Minister under Iraq's last king, and opponent of Saddam Hussein

ABD al-Amir Allawi, who has died aged 85, served as a Minister under King Faisal II of Iraq and lived in exile in London from the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, an active opponent of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Allawi, a paediatrician by training, was Minister of Health from 1953 until the overthrow of King Faisal and the Hashemite monarchy in 1958. As a member of the reforming administration of the Prime Minister Muhammad Fadhil al-Jamali in the 1950s, Allawi introduced effective campaigns to eradicate malaria, bilharzia and smallpox.

In his five years as Minister, he oversaw the establishment of provincial hospitals and rural clinics, and inaugurated a medical college in Mosul, Iraq's second city. Another college was being established at Basra at the time of the coup.

Allawi's plans for a "medical city" in Baghdad were only completed later.

Allawi regulated the pharmaceutical trade in Iraq and founded a modern system for the production and distribution of dairy products. The dairy complex in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, evolved into a huge enterprise.

The coup of July 14 1958 ended Allawi's career in government. He managed to escape the ordeal of a televised show trial of the kind favoured by the new military rˇgime of Abd al-Karim al-Qassem. Others were not so lucky; al-Jamali, the Prime Minister, was sentenced to death (though he was never executed) and other members of his cabinet were imprisoned.

Allawi's assets were sequestered and he was forbidden to travel for a year.

In 1959, though, he moved to London, where he spent two years at the Child Health Institute, part of the University of London.

He returned to Iraq in 1961, and spent the next 19 years in medical practice.

From the sidelines he observed the downward spiral of Iraq's political life, played out in a series of military takeovers, and culminating in the seizure of power in 1968 by the Ba'ath Party, which continues to rule under Saddam Hussein.

As a member of Iraq's patrician ancien régime, Allawi remained an object of suspicion to his country's military rulers. In 1972 he was arrested on dubious charges and imprisoned for several months. That year, when the Ba'ath government held a conference on child diseases in Baghdad, Allawi was pointedly not invited.

Abd al-Amir Allawi was born in Baghdad on September 25 1912, to an old mercantile family that could trace its lineage in the city back 500 years. The Allawis originated in the area of Wasit, in south-eastern Iraq, and were Arabs of the Rabia tribal federation. His mother's family were Sayyids, a caste of Islamic religious nobility tracing their descent from the Prophet Mohammed, and included a number of religious scholars of the Shi'ite sect.

From 1919 Allawi attended the Jaffariya school in Baghdad, which had been founded 1908 as one of the few schools in Iraq that offered a modern syllabus, including English and science. Most Iraqi schools at this time offered a curriculum of rote learning and the Koran.

He graduated in 1928, and joined the newly established Royal College of Medicine in Baghdad. He graduated from medical college in 1933, and the same year joined the staff of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Three years later, he was appointed to the paediatric section of the Royal Hospital in Baghdad.

As a young doctor, he opposed the use, then widespread, of debased or fraudulent traditional remedies, such as applying a glass tube to a patient's back to extract fever, and leeching. At about this time he began to lecture in paediatrics at the Royal College of Medicine. He was appointed professor of medicine in 1952, and joined the government the next year.

Allawi was in London for a brief visit in 1980 when the war with Iran began. He made the decision not to return. From exile in London, he was active in the Iraqi opposition movement. As a survivor of Iraq's generation of liberal patricians, he advised younger activists who sought his views.

He returned to Iraq for the last time in 1992, aged 80, when he was elected chairman of the founding session of the Iraqi National Congress, which brought together the country's main opposition groups. It met in Salahuddin, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a mountainous region of northern Iraq that had been demilitarised by the Western allies as a consequence of the Gulf War of 1991.

He married, in 1943, Raifa Abd al-Hadi Chalabi; they had three children.