Iraq's former deputy PM Aziz in US custody
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

WASHINGTON/AS SAYLIYA CAMP, Qatar: Tareq Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister and one of the best-known figures in Saddam Hussein's old guard, surrendered to US forces yesterday and is in custody.

US Central Command in Qatar and officials in Washington said that Aziz, No. 43 on the US military's list of the 55 most wanted members of Saddam's former ruling elite, gave himself up to US troops in Baghdad and was "under coalition control." They gave no other details. "He turned himself in," a US official, said on condition of anonymity. "He was a major regime figure for a long, long time. He was the public face of the regime for a long time. He was close to Saddam for many years."

Aziz, the eight of spades in the Pentagon's deck of cards representing the most-wanted former Iraqi officials sought by Washington, is the best known to the American public. He was an articulate spokesman for Saddam's regime before the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20 and played a starring diplomatic role during the 1991 Gulf War when he was foreign minister. He was also knowledgeable about policy decisions made by Saddam's government. "He may not know precisely where the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) is hidden, but he probably knows generally about their WMD programme," said the US official. "We have him," a US defence official confirmed. "He's pretty easy to identify."

Word of Aziz's capture came shortly before President George W. Bush returned to the White House from a trip to Ohio. On his return, Bush responded to shouted questions about Aziz's fate with a smile and a thumbs up sign. Aziz was the latest in a group of former Iraqi officials being held by US forces. On Wednesday, defence officials announced four key members of Saddam's toppled government, including the head of military intelligence and the chief of Iraq's air defences, have been taken into custody by the American military in Iraq. "They're collapsing like a house of cards," said Army Lt Col Tom Kurasiewicz, a Pentagon spokesman.

According to defence officials, Aziz would become the 12th of the 55 wanted individuals taken into custody. Three others are believed dead. The silver-haired, cigar-smoking Aziz used his command of English and strong negotiating skills to become Iraqi official best-known to the Western world aside from Saddam himself. He was a rarity among Saddam's followers, a Christian not linked to the Sunni Muslim Tikriti clan that has formed the backbone of Saddam's rule.

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