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US Forces Take Custody of Tariq Aziz - 2003-04-25

The man who for years had been perhaps the most visible symbol of Saddam Hussein's regime, former foreign minister and later deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, has surrendered to U.S. led forces in Iraq. The man considered to be one of Saddam Hussein's closest advisors and principal spokesman to outside world is now in the custody of coalition forces.

He is the most senior Iraqi official to be taken into custody so far. For years, Tariq Aziz had been one of the most visible and recognized symbols of the Iraqi government. He was the eight of spades in the deck of cards carrying the pictures of 55 most wanted Iraqi figures.

A Christian who is fluent in English, Mr. Aziz was part of Saddam's most trusted inner circle and was the Iraqi official who most frequently met with world leaders, often making the case that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. If he cooperates with the U.S. military, it could put coalition forces significantly closer to learning the fate of Saddam Hussein and his two sons, including whether they are alive and if so, their whereabouts.

In Iraq Thursday, Jay Garner, the retired American General in charge of the country's reconstruction, expressed concern that neighboring Iran may be trying to influence Iraq's long suppressed Shiite majority, some of whom have staged demonstrations against the U.S. presence and demanded a quick departure of American troops.

"I certainly don't think that represents anywhere near the majority," he said. "I think the majority is very silent, the majority is being very safe, the majority is still somewhat afraid and I think as you see them get more comfortable, you'll see more favoritism toward the U.S."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the possibility of an Iranian-influenced government taking hold in Baghdad in an interview Thursday with the Associated Press. "How would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country? The answer is that isn't going to happen," he said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied Thursday that Tehran is trying to influence events across its border, saying Iran is taking no role in post-war Iraq. But he lashed out at the United States for taking up what he called a "monopolist approach" toward the country. U.S. officials have accused Iran of sending agents into Iraq to destabilize the country's majority Shiite population.