Some acquaintances say Tariq Aziz deserves mercy

Saturday, April 26, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Tariq Aziz appears to have hidden in plain sight during the U.S. invasion, holing up in a Baghdad home until four American armored vehicles rolled up and he surrendered, neighbors and relatives said Friday.

The former deputy prime minister finds himself in a position he swore he'd never face: captured by the United States and facing a possible war crimes trial for his career as Saddam Hussein's sidekick.

Some Iraqis, quick to urge hanging or cages for Saddam and other members of his regime, called Friday for mercy for Aziz. They said he showed none of the personal relish for blood that the others did.

"He had to do what he was told, or Saddam would execute him," said Bishop Emmanuel Delly, Baghdad leader of the Chaldean Catholic faith, to which Aziz belongs.

The U.S. Central Command on Thursday announced the capture of Aziz -- after Saddam himself, Iraq's best-known figure internationally. U.S. military officials said Aziz surrendered Thursday in Baghdad.

American officials gave no further details. Chaldean Catholic clerics in Baghdad insisted church figures played no role in mediating the surrender, saying they learned of it afterward.

In a wealthy eastern Baghdad neighborhood, neighbors described seeing four U.S. armored vehicles pull up about 11 p.m. Thursday outside the block-wide mansion where one of Aziz's daughters lived.

Many in Baghdad had assumed Aziz fled to Syria with other government ministers and their families.

Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam's top circle. He was known to some in international diplomatic circles as a brusque man, a tough advocate for Saddam's interests.

Iraqis described far gentler behavior, especially compared to the torture and killing that Saddam and his sons meted out.

A woman recalled the time long ago when, as a schoolgirl, she visited Aziz's daughter at their home. She said Aziz invited her to take any book she wanted from his library, the largest she had ever seen -- on condition, he said gently, that she return it.

Another Baghdad resident, also speaking on condition of anonymity, described Aziz at a party, nervously chain-smoking cigars as he worried over a visit of a U.N. delegation.

Aziz was "a big liar," said Ali al-Safer, a college student in baseball cap, as he shopped with friends in Baghdad.

As for Saddam himself, "I want him handed to the Iraqi people, and you'll see what the people will do with him," al-Safar said, smiling grimly. "Maybe put in the zoo, in a monkey cage."

But he said Aziz "should be judged like any other wanted person -- to examine the good and the bad."

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