Joe Conason's Journal

The surrendered Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz might know the whereabouts of Saddam. He also has embarrassing stories to tell about U.S. leaders.

Published April 25, 2003 1:59PM (EDT)

Cigar aficionado
In the continuing absence of Saddam Hussein and his sons, Tariq Aziz is an important symbol of the defeated regime and a potential scapegoat for its worst crimes (despite his low rank in the army's card deck). It is also conceivable, if unlikely, that he knows where his old boss might be hiding -- although Saddam didn't survive this long by ignoring the problem of a squealer being captured.

But the evil dictator may not be the only figure worried by what the suddenly retired foreign minister could blab. If his memory is as good as his English, the cigar-chomping Aziz will recall events and personalities from the regime's long courtship with the West. For example, he may remember the day in March 1984 when Donald Rumsfeld dropped by as an envoy from the Reagan administration. At the time, Rummy's stated agenda was the Iran-Iraq war (in which our government armed and encouraged both sides), as well as "bilateral relations and the Middle East situation," according to the Associated Press. But researchers at the Institute for Policy Studies have uncovered a cache of documents that suggest his real aim was to convince Saddam to approve a new oil pipeline -- to be constructed by Bechtel! -- between Iraq and Jordan.

Once Aziz gets started about the good old days, he may also remember the time when an associate of Henry Kissinger visited with Saddam himself -- as part of a corporate delegation sponsored by the U.S.-Iraq Business Forum -- to figure out ways to reschedule the regime's debt and arrange more imports. The forum was actually a thinly veiled lobbying outfit, sponsored and operated by the Iraqi foreign ministry through its embassy in Washington.

No doubt Aziz knows about matters embarrassing to the French, Germans, Russian and British, too. There will probably be no reporter embedded deeply enough to speak with him for a long while.
[7:01 a.m. PDT, April 25, 2003]

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