Diminished Deputy Restates Loyalty to Hussein
Aziz Testifies Former Iraqi Ruler Had 'Nothing to Do' With Killing of Dujail Residents

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 25, 2006; A24

BAGHDAD, May 25 -- Thinner and paler than when last seen in public three years ago, former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz on Wednesday resumed his role as Saddam Hussein's defender before the world -- this time as a witness in a U.S.-secured courthouse, trying to save Hussein from hanging.

Aziz wore his familiar heavy eyeglasses, but a collarless and shapeless shirt took the place of the Western suits that were his trademark apparel when he was Hussein's chief envoy in disputes with the West and with Iraq's neighbors. His declarations of loyalty to Hussein remained intact.

"I wanted to come and witness for President Saddam Hussein, because I know he has nothing to do with this case," Aziz told Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, who appeared irritated at times that Aziz was testifying despite having no direct knowledge of the events surrounding Hussein's trial. The former president and seven co-defendants are accused in the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslim men and boys in the largely Shiite town of Dujail following a 1982 attempt on Hussein's life there.

In the government's crackdown in Dujail after the assassination attempt, more than 400 males were reportedly executed or otherwise killed, hundreds more residents were moved to a remote desert camp where many died, and the town's orchards were razed.

Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. authorities in April 2003, two weeks after the U.S. military overthrew Hussein, remains in U.S.-enforced Iraqi custody but is not charged in the Dujail case. Though Aziz's face was more angular than when he last was seen publicly, he otherwise showed little sign of suffering from what his family said were serious illnesses.

Aziz contended that Hussein was being prosecuted selectively as the fallen leader of a country whose new rulers include members of the Dawa party, which was blamed for the attempt on his life. "Having an assassination attempt against any president in any country would result in capturing and trying those who are responsible for the assassination attempt, and also capturing whoever committed this crime and helped to do it," Aziz said.

The same argument has been made by Hussein and others in his behalf throughout the trial.

The trial is the first of what U.S. officials have said may be a half-dozen cases brought against Hussein. He could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors spent the first months of the trial presenting their case, and Hussein's attorneys now are calling their witnesses. Aziz was one of a succession who testified Wednesday of unswerving loyalty to Hussein.

One, testifying behind a curtain, burst into shouts. "Down with America! Down with the occupation! Long live Iraq!" he cried. Six courtroom guards rushed the witness booth and, judging by his fading yells, dragged the witness away.

When Aziz finished testifying, he cheerily told Hussein, "Goodbye, Mr. President."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines said early Thursday that they were seeking a military criminal investigation of the alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Marines in Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad, on April 26. Several Marines in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment who are suspected of involvement have been sent back to the United States. The military gave no details of the alleged killing in a two-paragraph statement.

On Wednesday, U.S. forces killed seven insurgents in two operations outside the capital. On Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed when his patrol was attacked south of Balad with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S. military said.

Iraq's new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, pledged that government forces would be ready to take charge of security "in all provinces in Iraq within a year and a half." He made the vow in a written statement after meeting in Baghdad with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark. The Danish leader reaffirmed Wednesday that his country would cut the number of combat troops it has in Iraq.

Seventeen people were killed in drive-by shootings Wednesday, including a provincial official in northern Iraq and two of his bodyguards, and authorities found the bodies of nine people who apparently had been kidnapped and tortured. Since Feb. 22, when sectarian violence surged with the destruction of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, dozens of corpses have wound up each day in Baghdad's main morgue and hospitals, most of them unmentioned in news reports.