Senior member of the Saddam Hussein government Tareq Aziz surrendered on Thursday to United States-led forces in Iraq. But US officials expressed doubts whether he would know anything about weapons of mass destruction that the occupying forces are desperate to find.
Iraq’s former deputy prime minister and one of the best known members of the Saddam Hussein government, Tareq Hanna Aziz “turned himself in," a US official said. Aziz was the twelfth member associated with the Hussein government now in US custody.
“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 official.
US President George Bush responded to Aziz’s surrender with a smile and a thumbs up sign.
According to his family, he had recently suffered two heart attacks. His sister, quoted by CNN, said he had been holding discussions with the Americans through an intermediary for several days, seeking assurances that he would be treated "in a dignified manner" and receive medical care.
She said US army medics were on hand when he surrendered at about 9 pm (1700 GMT) on Thursday. The silver-haired, cigar-smoking Aziz, who is fluent in English, played a starring diplomatic role as foreign minister in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.
Appointed foreign minister in 1983 he was largely credited with securing western support for Iraq against Iran, notably from France.
Aziz, born in Mosul in 1936, is from an Assyrian Christian family, and had known Saddam Hussein since the 1950s. They were comrades in the Baath party from the early days.
Aziz was already in the command structure in 1963, in charge of information, five years before the Baathists seized power. He ran the party newspaper Al Thawra and then in the mid 1970s became information minister.
Aziz survived an apparent assassination attempt by grenade at Baghdad university in 1980 which left several dead. He escaped with a broken arm and a few cuts.
Al Jazeera with agency inputs