SEARCH: Search Options
News Home Page
National Security
 War in Iraq
Search the States
Special Reports
Photo Galleries
Live Online
Nation Index
Real Estate
Home & Garden
Live Online
Weekly Sections
News Digest
Print Edition
Site Index
Help / Feedback

Pentagon: Ex-Iraqi Leader Aziz Is in Custody
Garner: Government Rebuilding to Start Next Week

Former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz. (Samir Mezban - AP/File Photo)

Top Stories
'Lively, Strong' Pilot Honored at Arlington
Shiite Leader Makes Bold Return to Iraq Holy City
Baghdad Anarchy Spurs Call For Help
Sights and Sounds of War
Latest Audio and Video
Galleries From Post Photographers
Faces of the Fallen

Subscribe to washington post
E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Version
Permission to Republish
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2003; 6:25 PM

Former Iraqi 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.

No 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.

Aziz 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.

In 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.

In 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 drive-by shootings.

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.

The 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.

Today, 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 country.

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.

The 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 resolved.

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 authorize."

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 conference room.

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."

At the 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.

The United 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.

Officials 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, Switzerland.

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