- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Agence France-Presse) Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister who is now in U.S. custody, was always considered his master Saddam Hussein's voice.
Whenever Saddam had something to say to the world, his right-hand man, Tariq Hanna Aziz, would invariably deliver the message, usually with a defiant bravura performance.
But during the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the veteran communicator with the defiant tone and the ever-present cigar was strangely absent from the fray, with Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf deployed as the ever-optimistic frontman for the Iraqi regime.
Mr. al-Sahhaf's forthright tone contrasted with Mr. Aziz's confident, self-assured manner, honed from years of defending seemingly lost causes.
Told to go and explain Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, the invasion of Kuwait a decade later, Baghdad's failure to cooperate with U.N. weapons experts, you name it, the genial Mr. Aziz always found the words that made the headlines.
After the 1999 air strikes on Baghdad, the man who had been deputy prime minister since 1991 boldly laid into the international community, the Arab world, the French president, the "criminals" then-President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others.
His command of English, learned at a Baghdad university, did not just assure that the big guns of the English-language press turned out to listen, it also helped him dish out fierce tongue-lashings guaranteed to make any diplomat squirm.
Wearing trademark thick glasses and a military uniform, Mr. Aziz gave the impression he would defend Saddam to the end, however impossible that may sometimes have appeared to the West.
The die-hard loyalist did it so many times and so well, he was one of few long-term senior survivors of the ruthless regime who was not related to Saddam.
Appointed foreign minister in 1983 and largely credited with securing Western support for Iraq against Iran, notably from France, he is believed to have wielded little real decision-making power.
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, while still foreign minister, described Mr. Aziz as "a go-between to transmit messages who cannot take a decision on his own."
Diplomats believe his background explained that.
Mr. Aziz, born in Mosul in 1936, is from an Assyrian Christian family, and kept outside the closed circle of Saddam's Sunni Muslim cronies from Tikrit.
But they had known each other since the 1950s and Saddam was said to listen to the widely travelled, avuncular figure.
They were comrades in the Ba'ath Party from the early clandestine days.
Mr. Aziz was already in the command structure in 1963, in charge of propaganda, five years before the Ba'athists seized power. He ran the party newspaper Ath-Thawra, and then in the mid-1970s became information minister.
Mr. 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.

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