Saturday, April 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Tariq Aziz surrenders, being quizzed

Dubai, April 25
In the most significant catch so far, one of the best-known members of Saddam Hussein’s regime and former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz surrendered before the US forces and was being questioned on the whereabouts of the ousted Iraqi dictator and other top Baath Party leaders.

Details are scarce on how 67-year-old Aziz went into US custody, although Lt Yyonne Lukson of the Central Command said he surrendered to the coalition forces overnight.

Unconfirmed reports said Aziz, who was Iraq’s chief spokesman to the West, surrendered to US custody in Baghdad after making several inquiries through intermediaries about his fate once in US hands.

Aziz, known for his silver mane, large-framed glasses and a taste for fine cigars, was detained at an undisclosed place and was a long-term confidant of Saddam Hussein and Americans were expecting that he would shed light on the whereabouts of the ousted President, his two sons and other top Iraqi leaders absconding for more than two weeks after the regime’s fall.

Aziz, an English-speaking Chaldean Christian born near Mosul in 1936 and educated in Baghdad, toiled for years as Saddam’s Foreign Minister and main representative abroad.

He served on the Revolutionary Command Council, the ultimate authority in Iraq, but was not part of the ruler’s inner circle, composed of Saddam’s family and Baath stalwarts who have stood beside him since the party took over here in 1968. He was No 43 on the US list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

Aziz’s surrender came as the US occupation authorities struggled to form an interim administration to replace the now-destroyed Baath Party regime that he represented so long.

Meanwhile, a report from Washington said in response to shouted questions about Aziz, US President George W. Bush flashed a broad smile to reporters as he arrived at the White House, raised his eyebrows, and gave a big “thumbs-up” sign.

Aziz played a leading role in making Iraq’s case at the United Nations and other international arenas in the 12 years since the 1991 Gulf War when he was Iraq’s Foreign Minister.

For years he led denials that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and in the months before the US-British invasion was launched on March 20 had denied that Saddam would go into exile.

Aziz went to see Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in February. He later prayed for peace at the tomb of Saint Francis of Assisi.

His arrest came a day after the Commander of the Iraqi Air Defence Force, the Director of Military Intelligence and the Minister of Trade were taken into custody. PTI, AFP


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