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'Let Them Arrest Him,' Tariq Aziz's Aunt Says

Asked if her nephew had done anything to aid Christians, she tartly replied: "Zero. Zero. He's very, very bad." She added that he was part of a "criminal regime."
'Let Them Arrest Him,' Tariq Aziz's Aunt Says

ARAQOSH, Iraq, April 20 She has a picture of Tariq Aziz meeting Pope John Paul II on her living room wall, but on this Easter Sunday she had few kind words for her nephew.

"Let them arrest him," Selma Dawood said dismissively. "It's not important to me. What can I do with Tariq Aziz?"

The blunt, baritone-voiced 75-year-old widow was speaking of the man identified here as her sister's son. He was deputy prime minister in Saddam Hussein's government and to Americans, Iraq's voice to the outside world through two gulf wars.

Mr. Aziz, the portly, gray-haired, senior aide who wore trademark thick, black-rimmed glasses, offered up blistering critiques of the United States through both conflicts. Today, both he and his boss are missing.

Mr. Aziz was the top Christian on Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council. Today, his relatives and hundreds of thousands of other Christians, who make up nearly 4 percent of Iraq's population, celebrated Easter.

But Ms. Dawood, a striking woman with broad shoulders, a thick gray braid and a wizened face, offered few words of charity toward her nephew. It was unclear whether it was bad blood, crotchetiness or fear of arousing suspicion that fueled her attitude.

Asked if her nephew had done anything to aid Christians, she tartly replied: "Zero. Zero. He's very, very bad." She added that he was part of a "criminal regime."

Mr. Aziz, who is about 66, played a pivotal role in thwarting efforts by United Nations weapons inspectors in the mid-1990's and lived in a villa on the Tigris River in Baghdad.

"Saddam is finished, and we are O.K.," his aunt proclaimed. "We are very happy and merciful to God and the Americans, our uncles."

"God bless America," she added. "God protect America."

American Special Operations soldiers are patrolling this area, but they do not appear to be hunting for Mr. Aziz. American commanders said they recently sent troops to the area to discourage looting and clashes between Kurds and Christians. Today, the soldiers appeared relaxed. "So far, it's quiet," one of them said this afternoon.

Surrounded by some of her 18 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren, Ms. Dawood said she had lost contact with her relatives in Baghdad and had not seen her famous nephew since 1995. She was in Baghdad then, she said, and his driver picked her up for a family gathering.

"Just greetings," she said, dryly describing their conversation. " `How are you?' `Everything is O.K.' He never asked if we needed anything."

She said Mr. Aziz was the son of a doctor who emigrated from Turkey though some biographies say his father had a humbler profession and of Ms. Dawood's sister, who grew up here.

As a child, Mr. Aziz and his brother and sister moved every two years as his father held different health posts, she said, but they spent some time in the Mosul area before moving to Baghdad.

Mr. Aziz has two sons, Ziad and Saddam, and two daughters, Zaina and Mayisa, she said. All are adults who had been living in Baghdad with their families.

Both she and local residents said Mr. Aziz's wife stayed in this town during the first Persian Gulf war in 1991. But she said Mr. Aziz had not been in Qaraqosh for years.

This quiet, farming town of 25,000 people is 99 percent Assyrian Christian, residents said. Local priests do not know its exact age, but say it dates back thousands of years. It is part of a belt of Assyrian settlements in northern Iraq that date in some cases to the Assyrian Empire, which flourished from roughly 900 to 600 B.C. and had its capital near Mosul.

Today, two large churches dominate the town's skyline. One is a Chaldean, or Catholic, Assyrian Christian church, which celebrated Easter today. Women carrying girls in White and yellow Easter dresses streamed into the church this afternoon for services. The other church, which is Assyrian Orthodox, will celebrate Easter next Sunday.

Most portraits of Mr. Hussein have been removed from the town, but one remains. On the outskirts, a mural depicts him on horseback slaying a dragon with a spear flying.

Ms. Dawood's enthusiastic welcome of Americans is not universal here. Residents said they were relieved that Mr. Hussein had been toppled, but were apprehensive about lawlessness. "We are uncertain about our future this Easter," said Mathi Habib, a 36-year-old worker. "Our only worry is the instability and power vacuum."

Near the end of the conversation, Ms. Dawood grew more charitable about her nephew. "He is afraid of Saddam Hussein," she said. "They forced him to do things."

But she repeated that she had no ties to him. "We have no link," she said, "neither good nor evil.

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