If you really want to topple the Iraqi government, don’t kill Saddam Hussein — you want to kill Tariq Aziz.
Aziz is one of a very select few members of Hussein’s Baath Party with a formal education, having studied English Literature at the University of Baghdad College of Fine Arts. He joined the Baath party in the 1950s, helping to overthrow British rule, and became a close associate of Saddam Hussein’s during his rise to power in the 1970s. During these years he edited Baath party newspapers and served as the cultural affairs minister. Aziz has had full command of Iraqi foreign policy since 1979, and has been responsible for obtaining arms and supplies despite crushing sanctions imposed by the UN.
Throughout his career, Aziz has maintained close connections with the West, thanks to his command of the English language, his understanding of political and cultural imperatives throughout the English-speaking world, and his frequent travels and dealings with Western diplomats. As an individual, he has befriended and commanded the respect of every major Arab leader.
Aziz is successful because of another key attribute in his background: He is Christian. That is to say, he was born Christian. As such, Aziz himself will never be a threat to Saddam’s power within the Baathist party, and so therefore he is trusted by Hussein. While Hussein has surrounded himself with “Yes Men”, Aziz has the luxury of a bond of trust with Hussein, and has the unique ability to tell it like it is. Without the counsel of Tariq Aziz, Hussein would live in an absolute information vacuum, having no connection with reality. He would ultimately shoot himself in the foot.
Aziz is also responsible for the Iraqi strategy which ultimately defeated the commitment of the UN to put any bite into the bark of its various resolutions seeking to disarm Iraq. If the preamble to today’s war during 2002 was a battle of diplomats between Colin Powell and Tariq Aziz, the latter clearly showed his tenure and greater adeptness; creating rifts not only throughout the UN, but within the Security Council itself as well as NATO and the EU. While the Bush Administration may win the war, the politics of Aziz won the peace and has exposed the US to international criticism and made a martyr of Iraq.
Aziz is a masterful diplomat, a skilled statesman, and Hussein’s most crucial strategist. You kill him, and the Baath Party will be reduced to a mess of thugs and thieves vying for power internally while a weakened Saddam struggles to understand the forces against him.
The Bush Administration clearly understands this.
Yesterday Tariq Aziz appeared at a press conference in Baghdad to quel rumours he had defected. Hours later, the US launched a cruise missile attack designed to kill, according to US military officials, several key Baathists. My suspicion is that Aziz’s movements were tracked from the press conference by ground personnel and/or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to a building, which then became a target of opportunity too big for the US to resist. It’s even possible that the rumours he had defected were started by the US in order to draw him out of hiding and into the light, though this is giving Bush’s hawks a lot of credit.
If Aziz is killed, it will be some time before this information is revealed. Iraqis know and trust Aziz, and recognize his influence on the outcome of any war with the West. Killing Aziz would be a crippling blow to Iraqi morale, as well.
“You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, France is accusing the US of arrogance and Germany doesn’t want to go to war.”