Mystery of Aziz and the Russian
BAGHDAD: Hours before American troops first entered Baghdad, Saddam Hussein’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, went to his information ministry for a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador. The appointment with Vladimir Titorenko was set for 1pm on April 9. Two hours later there was no sign of the Russian envoy and Aziz left the ministry. The fluent English speaker would not be seen again until he handed himself over to US forces in Baghdad last Thursday.
“He was expecting a very important answer from the Russian government through their ambassador in Baghdad,” said one official. It may, he believed, have been related either to Aziz’s own future or, more intriguingly, to that of Saddam Hussein.
Titorenko may have been rattled by his own experience that week. Three days earlier he had been part of a convoy that came under fire from American forces on the outskirts of Baghdad, apparently as it was fleeing the city.
Aziz, one of the few Christians in Saddam’s regime, is the most prominent of the senior Iraqis held. He was designated the eight of spades in the “most wanted” cards distributed to US troops — making him number 43 of the 55 on the list.
Little has emerged, however, of what Aziz, described by one former CIA analyst as “the symbol of this vile regime”, has revealed to his captors, or of whether he has struck a deal.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, indicated the legal status of the captives remains uncertain. “The lawyers will figure that out,” he said. He ruled out sending them or other Iraqi prisoners to the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the Pentagon is holding 600 “detainees” in its war against terror — most of whom were captured in Afghanistan.
The Home Office yesterday rejected as “ridiculous” reports that Aziz could be offered asylum in Britain in return for information. —TST