- The Washington Times - Friday, August 6, 2010

Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s former right-hand man and once the international face of the Iraqi regime, says President Obama is “leaving Iraq to the wolves” by withdrawing troops from the country.

In his first interview since he was incarcerated more than seven years ago, Aziz told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that Mr. Obama “cannot leave us like this … When you make a mistake, you need to correct a mistake, not leave Iraq to its death.”

Five months after a national election, Iraq is mired in a political gridlock with disagreement over who should be prime minister.

Only 50,000 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Iraq by the end of August.

Kenneth Pollack, director of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said in a recent analysis that, while the Iraqi government remains in disarray, the fiercely nationalistic Iraqi people are ready for U.S. troops to leave.

Mr. Obama wants to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Aug. 31. “And that is exactly what we are doing - as promised, on schedule,” he said this week in Atlanta.

The U.S. has closed or turned over hundreds of bases to Iraqis. By the end of the month, more than 90,000 U.S. troops will have returned home since Mr. Obama took office.

Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the chances that Washington will slow down the pace of withdrawal are extremely remote.

“It would take a catastrophe to alter the current course, ” she said in an online post. “Barring a major outbreak of violence, the benchmark for troop levels will be met, but without a government in place, it is harder for the United States to declare victory.”

In his interview with the Guardian, Aziz said he had been wrongly imprisoned and rued his decision to turn himself over to U.S. forces, adding that he would have preferred to have been martyred.

“It’s been seven years and four months that I have been in prison,” he said. “But did I commit a crime against any civilian, military or religious man? The answer is no.”

He is serving a 15-year sentence for one conviction for a crime against humanity. He faces more charges in the Iraqi judicial system.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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