Pentagon: Ex-Iraqi Leader Aziz Is in Custody
Garner: Government Rebuilding to Start Next Week
By Valerie Strauss
Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz.
(Samir Mezban - AP/File Photo)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2003; 6:25 PM
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz is now in U.S. custody, the highest
ranking member of the former government of Saddam Hussein to be taken
by American forces, a Defense Department official said today.
other details were immediately available about the detention of Aziz, a
close adviser of Hussein's for more than two decades. The news came
just a day after four other Hussein cronies were taken into custody as
U.S. forces pressed their efforts to find officials in the government
deposed by the U.S.-led invasion in March.
Aziz was one
of the Hussein government's most familiar figures around the world, in
part because he served as foreign minister during the first Persian
Gulf War, in 1991, and was the Iraqi government's spokesman. He was
unusual in several respects for a top official: He was a Christian in a
mostly Muslim country, and was not from Hussein's ancestral region of
Tikrit, where most of his closest associates hailed.
was last seen on Iraqi television on April 7, on a tape showing Hussein
meeting with his top aides and his two sons, though it was not clear
when the footage was actually shot. In a list of 55 senior Iraqi
government officials being sought by U.S. authorities, Aziz was number
43 and rated a spot as the eight of spades in the deck of cards that
the U.S. military issued with those 55 officials.
other news today, the American in charge of running postwar Iraq said
that some government ministries in Baghdad would open by late next week
-- run by Iraqis -- and he blamed Iran for heavily influencing
anti-American protests inside Iraq.
President Bush today
also raised the possibility that Saddam Hussein's regime had destroyed
the prohibited chemical and biological weapons that were the
justification for the United States invasion of Iraq, Washington Post
staff writer Dana Milbank reported.
In a trip to an Ohio
plant that makes Abrams tanks, the president talked about the failure
so far to find the forbidden weapons. "It's going to take time to find
them," Bush said. "But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed
them, moved them, or hid them, we're going to find out the truth."
It was the first hint by Bush that U.S. troops and others hunting for weapons might fail to find chemical and biological arms.
addition, today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview
with the Associated Press today that Iraqis would be free to form the
government of their choosing as long as it was not patterned after the
theocracy in neighboring Iran.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner
met in the capital with some 60 Iraqi technocrats and academics to
discuss security issues as well as how city residents should choose
their municipal leadership. It was one in a series of meetings Garner
plans to hold with Iraqi citizens about rebuilding their government
following the March invasion.
"I think you'll begin to see
the governmental process start next week, by the end of next week,"
Garner said at a news conference. "It will have Iraqi faces on it. It
will be governed by the Iraqis."
Security issues were high
on the list of priorities among those attending the meeting,
underscored by a string of hostilities reported in recent days in
different parts of the country. Today 100 miles southeast of Baghdad in
the city of Kut, assailants fired on a U.S. Marine command post in two
No one was injured in the incidents,
Lt. Col. Doug Fairfield, operations officer at the Kut command post
that is part of Marine Task Force Tarawa, told the Associated Press. At
least 15 bullet holes were found in the building, a former Baath Party
guesthouse that U.S. troops are using as their forward base in Kut.
gunfire came amid rising tensions in the city, where a Shiite Muslim
cleric, Sayed Abbas Fadhil, has claimed control of the city. Marines
entered Kut without resistance last week, but since then have been
fired upon several times, Fairfield said.
A few hundred
protesters today also staged anti-American demonstrations at the city's
main bridge over the Tigris River, where Iraqis yesterday blocked a
convoy of about 20 U.S. military vehicles for more than four hours.
The protesters are backed by Fadhil, who occupied city hall before U.S.
troops entered Kut. U.S. Marines claim he has connections to Iran and
groups that want to see an Islamic government in Iraq.
Garner blamed Iran for the anti-American protests, although he
predicted they would subside soon. "Those are well-organized. I think
what you find in that is a lot of Iranian influence," said Garner, who
was selected by President Bush to oversee the reconstruction of the
The United States has warned Iran, Iraq's Shiite
Muslim neighbor, against interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq,
where 60 percent of the population is also Shiite Muslim. The two
countries fought a long, bloody war in the 1980s.
struggle in Kut highlights some of the difficulties the United States
faces as it tries to help Iraqis build new governmental structures and
fill the power vacuum left when Hussein's government fell. In a number
of areas, individual Iraqis are trying to take power in defiance of
U.S. forces and it remains unclear how these power struggles will be
Conspicuously absent from Garner's meeting in
Baghdad today was a recently returned exile, Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi,
who has declared himself mayor of Baghdad and who claims to have
American military support. U.S. officials have said they do not
recognize his authority and he was not invited today.
Zubaidi "is running Baghdad as much as Saddam Hussein is," said Lt.
Col. Alan King, commander of an Army civil affairs battalion working in
the capital. King said he had seen reports that Zubaidi was issuing
weapons and uniforms to followers.
"Anyone in uniform
working with Zubaidi will be arrested as a combatant," King said. "The
only people in Baghdad allowed to wear a uniform . . . is who we
Zubaidi is a high official of the opposition
Iraqi National Congress, which fought Hussein for years from a base
outside Iraq. The leader of the organization, Ahmad Chalabi, was flown
into southern Iraq with some fighters by U.S. forces, prompting critics
to charge that the Pentagon was favoring him in the process to select
new Iraqi leaders.
Garner said today that Chalabi was not
Washington's choice to lead Iraq and that the goal was to allow Iraqis
decide on their leaders.
"Our purpose here in your country
is to create an environment for you so that we can begin a process of
government that leads to a democratic form . . . a government that is a
mosaic of the Iraqi people," he said.
But in his AP interview, Rumsfeld said an Iranian-style government was not in the cards for Iraq.
"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type
government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the
answer is: That isn't going to happen," he said in his Pentagon
Garner also said that certain Iraqis would be barred from working in the interim government.
"We will identify anyone who was a crony of Saddam Hussein or a
violator of human rights and he will be disqualified," he said. "Beyond
that I don't think there will be disqualifications."
United Nations in New York, the Security Council extended Iraq's
oil-for-food program until June 3, allowing the flow of humanitarian
aid to continue while nations wrangle over what to do with U.N.
sanctions imposed against Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.
The program, passed in 1996, is responsible for feeding the majority of
Iraq's 24 million people. It was suspended before the March war but the
council subsequently authorized the United Nations to distribute more
than $10 billion in goods that had already been funded by the program.
Little of that was expected to be delivered to Iraq before the U.N.
authority over the program expired on May 12.
States and other countries have been feuding over the U.N. sanctions
against Iraq, with Washington wanting them lifted immediately but
France and some other nations saying that such a move should not happen
until U.N. weapons inspectors declare the country free of all weapons
of mass destruction. It was Hussein's alleged possession and
development of those weapons that was cited by Bush as a key reason for
launching the war.
U.S. forces pressed efforts today to
restore basic services to residents in the city of 5 million and to
search for members of Hussein's former government.
said that after three weeks of no electricity, Baghdad is receiving
about one-quarter of its usual supply, although service is still
sporadic in areas receiving power.
Garner's office said
that 175,000 barrels a day of oil is now flowing in southern Iraq, to a
refinery in Basra and to the city's power plants. In the next day or
two, 60,000 barrels a day is expected to begin flowing in the north, as
well as natural gas, which drives electric turbines for Baghdad.
In Geneva today speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, Secretary
General Kofi Annan called on the U.S.-led coalition to respect
international law as the "occupying power" in Iraq, drawing immediate
complaints from U.S. officials who resist the label "occupier" and say
coalition forces are respecting the rules.
"I hope the
coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act
strictly within the rules" governing the occupation of conquered
nations, Annan told the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva,
U.S. officials said they had not yet
established whether the coalition that toppled Saddam was the occupying
power under international law but coalition forces were nevertheless
abiding by international conventions.
"We've made it clear
from day one of this conflict through our actions," said U.S. envoy
Kevin Moley. "We find it -- at best -- odd that the secretary-general
chose to bring this to our attention."
And in Belgium, Gen.
James Jones, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said the
19-nation alliance was capable of playing a role to stabilize post-war
Iraq if a request came from member governments exploring the idea. On
Wednesday, a senior State Department official said the idea was
discussed in the alliance's decision-making North Atlantic Council and
no ally had objected in principle to a NATO presence in Iraq.
2003 The Washington Post Company