Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tariq Aziz

Tariq Aziz (Arabic: طارق عزيز‎ āriq Azīz, né: Mikhail Yuhanna (Syriac: Mīāil Yōānon, baptized Manuel Christo; born April 28, 1936) was the Foreign Minister (1983 – 1991) and Deputy Prime Minister (1979 – 2003) of Iraq and a close advisor of former President Saddam Hussein. Their association began in the 1950s when both were activists for the then-banned Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. He is an ethnic Assyrian and a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Because of security concerns, Saddam rarely left Iraq, so Aziz would often represent Iraq at high-level diplomatic summits. What the United States wanted, he averred, was not "regime change" in Iraq but rather "region change". He summed up the Bush Administration's reasons for war against Iraq tersely: "oil and Israel."

Since surrendering to American forces on April 24, 2003, Aziz has been held in prison, first by American forces and subsequently by the Iraqi government. He is currently in prison in Camp Cropper in western Baghdad. He was acquitted of some charges on March 1, 2009 following a trial, but was sentenced to 15 years on March 11, 2009 for the executions of 42 merchants found guilty of profiteering in 1992 and another 7 years for relocating Kurds. On October 26, 2010, he was sentenced to death by the Iraqi High Tribunal, and this has sparked regional and international condemnation from Iraqi Bishops and other Iraqis, the Vatican, the United Nations, and the human rights organization Amnesty International, as well as various governments around the world, such as those of the European Union and Russia. On October 28, 2010, it was reported that Tariq Aziz, as well as 25 fellow prison inmates, had begun a hunger strike to protest the fact that they could not receive their once-monthly visit from friends and relatives, which was normally set for the last Friday of each month.

On November 17, 2010, it was reported that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had declared that he would not sign Aziz's execution order.

Early life
Aziz was born on April 28, 1936, in Tel Keppe, to an Assyrian family and is a member of the Chaldean Catholic church. Aziz studied English at the Baghdad University of Fine Arts, and later worked as a journalist, before joining the Ba'ath Party in 1957. In 1963, he was editor of the newspaper Aj-Jamahir (al-Jamaheer) and al Thawra, the newspaper of the Ba'ath party.

In April 1980 he survived an Iranian-backed assassination attempt carried out by members of the Islamic Dawa Party. In the attack, members of Islamic Dawa Party threw a grenade at Aziz in central Baghdad. The attack killed several people. It was among the casus belli of the Iran–Iraq War.

His son Ziad Aziz lives in Jordan with his wife, four children, and Tariq Aziz's two sisters. Tariq Aziz's wife and another son live in Yemen.

He voluntarily surrendered to American forces on April 24, 2003, after negotiations had been mediated by his son. His chief concern at the time was for the welfare of his family. At the time of his surrender, Aziz was ranked number 43 out of 55 in the American list of most-wanted Iraqis despite a belief "he probably would not know answers to questions like where weapons of mass destruction may be hidden and where Saddam Hussein might be."

Before the war, Aziz claimed he would rather die than be a U.S. prisoner of war: "Do you expect me, after all my history as a militant and as one of the Iraqi leaders, to go to an American prison – to go to Guantanamo? I would rather die", he told Britain's ITV.

Defense witness
On May 24, 2006, Aziz testified in Baghdad as a defense witness for Ibrahim Barzan and Mukhabarat employees, claiming that they did not have any role in the 1982 Dujail crackdown. He stated that the arrests were in response to the assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein, which was carried out by the  Shiite Dawa Party. "If the head of state comes under attack, the state is required by law to take action. If the suspects are caught with weapons, it's only natural they should be arrested and put on trial".

He further testified that the Dujail attack was "part of a series of attacks and assassination attempts by this group, including against me." He said that in 1980, Dawa Party insurgents threw a grenade at him as he visited a Baghdad university, killing civilians around him. "I'm a victim of a criminal act conducted by this party, which is in power right now. So put it on trial. Its leader was the prime minister and his deputy is the prime minister right now and they killed innocent Iraqis in 1980," he said. The Dawa Party is now a party in the Shiite coalition that dominates the Iraqi government. The party's leader, Ibrahim al-Jaafari was prime minister until mid-May, when another leading Dawa Party figure, Nouri al-Maliki was picked and he was able to form a new government before the end of May 2006.

In closing he stated that "Saddam is my colleague and comrade for decades, and Barzan is my brother and my friend and he is not responsible for Dujail's events."

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