| The cigar from Havana' Tariq Aziz
Saddam Hussein’s security chiefs placed members of Tariq Aziz’s family under arrest shortly before the start of the war to make sure that the former Iraqi deputy Prime Minister did not defect to the West.
Concerns about the fate of his family — in particular his eldest son — if he surrendered to coalition forces was Aziz’s primary concern during the lengthy negotiations that finally resulted in his decision to give himself up at the end of last week.
“Tariq was still terrified of what the remnants of Saddam’s regime would do to his family if he surrendered to us,” said a Western security officer.
“Even if Saddam were dead, he knew that there were still Baath Party loyalists who would want to exact revenge on his family.”
As part of Aziz’s surrender terms, coalition commanders agreed to place the Iraqi politician’s immediate family under the equivalent of protective custody to ensure that they were safe from revenge attacks by Saddam loyalists.
But the favourable surrender terms agreed between coalition commanders and Aziz have prompted speculation that Saddam’s trusted foreign policy adviser may in fact be the Iraqi spy who provided the intelligence responsible for the Cruise missile attack on the Iraqi dictator’s bunker in southern Baghdad in the opening salvos of the conflict.
Intelligence officials have claimed that the information they received that allowed them to target Saddam’s bunker came from a “senior official” within the Baath regime, and as one of the leading members of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), Aziz would have prior warning that Saddam was planning to hold a meeting at one of his heavily-fortified bunkers.
“You get the feeling, now that Aziz is safely in American custody, that he will be getting re-acquainted with people he has known for quite some time,” said a former CIA officer who specialises in Iraq. “The information that enabled the coalition forces to target Saddam in the opening hours of the war could only have come from someone like Aziz who had access to Saddam’s inner circle.”
There has been intense speculation about Saddam’s fate since the attack on the bunker in the early hours of March 20. At first it was reported that Saddam had been killed in the attack, then it was suggested that he had suffered non-life threatening injuries that had been treated by a specialist team of Russian doctors.
Coalition officials appeared to confirm that Saddam had survived the initial strike when they bombed a restaurant complex in central Baghdad on April 7 at which the Iraqi dictator had been seen arriving with his younger son, Qusay, and other Baath Party officials.
At the end of last week, however, President George W. Bush said he believed that Saddam had either been killed or critically injured in the March 20 attack, and paid tribute to the “brave soul” who provided the intelligence that enabled the attack to take place. Asked if the Iraqi spy was still alive, Bush replied: “Yes, he is. He is with us. Thank God.”
Whether or not Aziz was responsible for providing intelligence about Saddam’s whereabouts during the conflict, there is no doubt that the Iraqi dictator had become deeply suspicious about his deputy Prime Minister’s intentions.
Relations between the two men had become strained in the aftermath of the Gulf war in 1991 when Saddam became concerned that Aziz, who was then his foreign minister, enjoyed too much popularity among Iraqis as a result of his well-publicised international diplomatic activities.
As the only Christian among the Sunni Muslim clique that controlled the Iraqi Baath Party, Aziz has always been regarded as an outsider since he came to Saddam’s attention in the 1970s for his staunch anti-Communist views, which he regularly aired in the columns of al-Thawra (The Revolution), the Baath Party newspaper that he edited.
In recent years Aziz had been sidelined following his appointment as deputy Prime Minister, although he managed to retain his position on the all-important RCC, the Baathists’ main decision-making body.
The only reason Aziz managed to survive this period is that Saddam continued to rely on his expertise in foreign affairs. In the late 1990s, when Aziz failed to persuade the United Nations to lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq at the end of the Gulf war, Saddam briefly imprisoned the politician’s eldest son as punishment.
In the weeks preceding Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam ordered the detention of several members of Aziz’s family following suspicions that he was preparing to defect to the West.
When, shortly after the conflict started, however, Washington officials dropped heavy hints that the Iraqi official had defected, Aziz appeared before journalists in Baghdad angrily denouncing the claims, saying that he would “rather die” than be taken into custody by the Americans.
Aziz’s surrender is undoubtedly an enormous propaganda coup for coalition commanders as he would never have contemplated surrendering if he thought there was any chance that Saddam or his two sons, Uday and Qusay, could continue to pose a threat.
The Daily Telegraph