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Baghdad bishop defends captured Aziz

Captured former Iraq deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz was only doing what Sadaam told him to do, according to Bishop Emmanuel Delly, Baghdad leader of the Chaldean Catholic faith, to which Aziz belongs.

Aziz, who was taken into US custody on Thursday, faces a possible war crimes trial for his role as Saddam Hussein's assistant. But some Iraqis, quick to urge hanging or incarceration for Saddam and other members of his regime, are calling for mercy for Aziz.

"He had to do what he was told, or Saddam would execute him," said Bishop Delly.

In a wealthy eastern Baghdad neighborhood, neighbours described seeing four US armored vehicles pull up about 11:00 p.m. Thursday outside the block-wide mansion where one of Aziz's daughters lived. One woman associated with the family confirmed Aziz's relatives are worried about the 66-year-old Aziz's heart condition. Media reports said Aziz has had two heart attacks and that a doctor was with him when he surrendered.

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

A source close to Aziz's family had pointed to Baghdad as the most likely place Aziz would have gone into hiding.

Aziz was the only Christian in Saddam's top circle. Clerics and fellow congregation members said on Friday they had not seen Aziz in church for years. But his wife, they said, was a faithful celebrant at every Mass until early April.

"Especially in the last weeks, she would weep and weep," said Fr Boutros Haddad, priest at the Virgin Mary Baghdad parish church. "The last time she came she could not stop crying. Probably she expected this."

Bishop Delly refused to say whether he hoped for mercy for Aziz.

"I am not a judge," he said. "He did his job. He did his duty, like all of us."

British lawmakers and others were talking Friday of a war crimes trial for Aziz for his role in Saddam's regime. Aziz was known to some in international diplomatic circles as a hard-nosed, brusque man, a tough advocate for Saddam's interests.


Iraqi archbishop says people experiencing "anguished emptiness" (23/4/03)
Where is Tariq Aziz? 'Let them arrest him,' aunt says (International Herald Tribune)
Pope urges Aziz to push for Iraqi commitment to disarm (17/2/03)

28 Apr 2003