Tariq Aziz, Public Face Of Saddam Hussein Regime, Dies
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's most loyal deputies, died today at the age of 79. Aziz was the face of the regime to the outside world. He had been in jail in Iraq since the regime was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion. NPR's Alice Fordham reports that he died of natural causes.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: In deft English, Tariq Aziz, a Christian from Northern Iraq, was for decades a familiar figure, speaking for the autocratic ruler of Baghdad. Aziz studied English literature and joined the Ba'ath Party. After the party clawed its way to power, he served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. As war loomed, he cautioned Western powers not to meddle in Iraq, vowing in a CBC Television interview in 2003 that the U.S.-led invasion would be met with a fierce response.
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TARIQ AZIZ: We are not going to surrender. Let them dream of that, but is not the country. This is not the nation. This is not the leadership that's going to surrender to the Americans. We'll fight till the last bullet.
FORDHAM: But when the invasion came, he did surrender. He was imprisoned, tried for and convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in the execution of merchants accused of profiteering and for participating in Hussein's persecution of political foes. He was sentenced to death. He resurfaced during the trial of Saddam Hussein to defend his old boss one last time. He told the court, Saddam is my colleague and comrade for decades.
Iraqi officials say Aziz died in custody in a hospital of natural causes. Twelve years after the invasion that toppled his Ba'ath Party, his home city of Mosul is now controlled by the self-named Islamic State, or ISIS. The group is believed to have many Ba'ath era officials in its ranks. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Erbil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.