Son of Tariq Aziz Negotiated Surrender

A son of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz negotiated his father's surrender over a satellite phone with the help of a friend in the United States, ABCNEWS has learned.

A trusted aide to Saddam Hussein and a top former Iraqi government spokesman, Aziz is in U.S. custody after surrendering to U.S. forces in Baghdad on Thursday.

Aziz's surrender has raised U.S. expectations that more wanted Iraqi officials would be captured or would surrender themselves in the next few days.

A former Iraqi spy chief was also detained on Thursday, by U.S. forces near the Iraq-Syria border, U.S. military officials confirmed today.

Farouk Hijazi was in U.S. custody, U.S. officials said, but there were no further details about his capture.

Hijazi was Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia until the war began, but he does not feature in the U.S. list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

A former head of external operations in the Mukhabarat intelligence agency during the 1990s, Hijazi is believed to have orchestrated the assassination attempt against former President George Bush.

He is believed to have traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where he allegedly met Osama bin Laden, said ABCNEWS' John McWethy.

U.S. officials maintain that Saddam's regime had ties to the al Qaeda network, a fact Aziz repeatedly denied before the war began.

A day after Aziz's surrender, it was not known if he was passing on information although ABCNEWS has learned that the former Iraqi deputy prime minister had agreed to talk to his captors.

A well-spoken expert on foreign affairs, Aziz's demeanor was believed to be calm during the surrender, but there were concerns about the 67-year-old former Iraqi minister's health.

There were doctors present during the surrender, said ABCNEWS' Dan Harris in Baghdad. He is believed to have had two heart attacks in recent days.

One of Aziz's major concerns regarding his surrender were the safety of his family, including his wife and three grownup children, said Harris.

Aziz was the eight of spades in the deck of playing cards picturing 55 former Iraqi leaders sought by the United States, and No. 43 on the most-wanted list.

Aziz was not rated that high on the U.S. list, said McWethy, because he probably would not know answers to questions like where weapons of mass destruction may be hidden and where Saddam Hussein might be.

'A Very Senior Person'

In Washington today, senior U.S. officials hailed the capture of the former Iraqi foreign minister. Calling him "a very senior person" in Saddam's regime, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "We intend to discuss with him whatever he's willing to discuss with us."

At a Pentagon briefing today, Rumsfeld said coalition forces had taken between 7,000 to 7,500 Iraqi prisoners of war, but several lower level prisoners were being released everyday, he added.

In Baghdad, the news of the surrender of the so-called mouthpiece of the Saddam regime was welcomed in the streets of the capital city, said Harris.

An Assyrian Christian from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Aziz was the highest ranking Christian official in Saddam's regime. Some attributed his survival to his lack of a power base in Iraq, which meant he presented no threat to Saddam.

At a Baghdad church today, Rev. Emmanuel Delly expressed some sympathy for the captured Iraqi official, according to The Associated Press. Calling him a "good man," Delly added that "like all of us, he was only doing his duty."

But Aziz was a member of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council and he is wanted by the U.S. for war crimes.

Icon of the Old Regime

With his Groucho Marx appearance and his clear, fluent English, Aziz was probably the most familiar face of the former regime other than Saddam himself, and one of the longest-lasting as well.

Aziz became familiar to Western television viewers as Iraq's foreign minister and Baghdad's de-facto spokesman during the first Gulf War. He was most recently deputy prime minister, but perhaps his most remarkable feat was surviving as an adviser to Saddam for more than 20 years.

His ties to Saddam went back to the founding of the Baath Party in the 1950s, and he played a key role in many of the most important moments in Iraq's history. He enlisted U.S. aid during the Iran-Iraq war, and also forged ties with the Soviet Union.

Aziz's background was unique among Saddam's inner circle. A Christian from Mosul, he came from humble circumstances — his father was a waiter — before rising to become the only Iraqi Christian in the top echelons in Saddam's regime.

Shortly before the war began, he met with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican to make a call for peace.

ABCNEWS' Dan Harris in Baghdad, and John McWethy and Katy Textor in Washington contributed to this report.

Comments