Iraqi Deputy PM Tariq Aziz, Four Others Taken Into Custody
His surrender followed the news that three other key figures, including number ten on the list of those sought by American leaders, were in coalition hands.
Although U.S. Central Command acknowledged they had Aziz in custody, officials would not comment on whether he had surrendered or been captured.
“Tariq Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, is now under coalition control,” Central Command said in a brief statement. “He is No. 43 on the U.S. Central Command ‘Iraqi Top 55′ list.”
Aziz was considered something of an anomaly among Iraqi officials, both because he is a Christian and because he is not related to Saddam’s Tikriti clan. He was born Michael Yuhanna to poor parents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
A long-time supporter of the Baath party, Aziz rose through the party as a newspaper editor, information minister and later, during the 1991 Gulf War, as Iraq’s foreign minister.
News of Aziz’s detention came a day after coalition forces announced three key figures, including number ten on the list of those sought by American leaders, were now in custody.
Muzahim Sa’b Hassan al-Tikriti, Air Defense Force commander and the highest-ranking Iraqi captured thus far, was said to be “under coalition control,” but U.S. military officials would provide no details of his capture.
Al-Tikriti, a member of Saddam Hussein’s native clan and the former Iraqi leader’s inner circle, reportedly assisted in the training of the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam. U.S. forces accused the Fedayeen of orchestrating many of the ambush and terror campaigns waged against Iraqi civilians and advancing coalition troops.
Gen. Zuhayr Talib Abd al Sattar al Naqib, Saddam’s chief of military intelligence, gave himself up in Baghdad Wednesday, the same day U.S. forces captured Muhammad Mahdi al-Salih, the former Iraqi trade minister and No. 48 on the most wanted list.
Prior to his surrender, Naqib defended his role in the military, but refused to comment on his thoughts about the former Iraqi strongman.
“This was the military — you move up from position to position. I was just following orders,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “But I will not answer whether I believed in the regime.”
In the interview, he also dismissed any charges that he had done anything morally wrong.
“What is their proof that I am a war criminal?” he asked.
The captures bring to 11 the number of former top Iraqis sought by the coalition who U.S. forces say have been captured. The military has published the list of the 55 most wanted on playing cards distributed to troops in the field.
Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications for U.S. Central Command, also announced Wednesday the capture of Salim Said Khalaf al-Jumayli. Although not among the 55, he was a key member of the intelligence agency in Iraq and headed efforts to spy on America.
American officials said they were pleased by the speed with which the Iraqis were being captured.
“They’re collapsing like a house of cards,” Army Lt. Col. Tom Kurasiewicz, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters.
What the U.S. plans to do with the captured Iraqis remains unclear. Pentagon officials said Wednesday it was too early to determine whether any of the officials would be tried for war crimes or other violations of international law.