Frail Tariq Aziz Defends Saddam

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The New York Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Tariq Aziz, who for a decade was Saddam Hussein’s leading international apologist, made his first public appearance in three years yesterday as he appeared in court to defend his former master once again.

The former Iraqi foreign minister was testifying on behalf of Saddam and his seven co-defendants standing trial for allegedly killing 148 Shiite Muslims at Dujail in 1982 in reprisal for a failed assassination attempt.

Sitting in the witness stand, Mr. Aziz looked a shadow of the man who had so confidently justified Iraq’s policies to the world.

In the months after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait he routinely briefed the press while dressed in bespoke suits and smoking a cigar, making him one of the most recognizable figures in the Baathist regime.

Yesterday he was dressed in checked pajamas and had a medical bracelet on his left wrist as he argued that the Dujail killings were a justified response to an Iranian plot to kill Iraq’s leadership during the Iran-Iraq war.

His appearance added substance to rumors that he is seriously ill, possibly after suffering a cerebral embolism, and is now largely confined to a hospital bed.

Mr. Aziz, 70, was pale and much thinner. His family has repeated called for his release from American custody, claiming that in addition to suffering from heart problems he has developed diabetes and has had many of his teeth removed after they decayed.

Despite his infirm appearance, Mr. Aziz still put up a spirited defense of Saddam. He said there was no crime in acting against groups who attacked the Iraqi state.

“The president is not guilty, nor are any of the officials in the government, just because they punished those who tried to assassinate the head of state,” he said.

Mr. Aziz surrendered to American troops in the weeks after the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003. Since then he has been held at a high security prison near Baghdad airport. He faces charges of embezzlement.

Saddam’s defense lawyers have previously argued that the killing of the 148 Shiites was legal under Iraqi law at that time. The prosecution claims many were murdered before their execution papers were signed and that children were among the dead.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

Lebanese security forces said yesterday that they had arrested a nephew of Saddam as he was about to leave the country. Bashar Sabawi is a suspected leader of the Iraqi insurgency. His father, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, was arrested on the Syrian border in February 2005 on charges of funding the insurgency.

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