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U.S. hoping Aziz will talk

Aziz gestures under a portrait of Saddam Hussein during a news conference in September 2002.
Aziz gestures under a portrait of Saddam Hussein during a news conference in September 2002.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces are hoping former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz will provide information on the whereabouts of his boss Saddam Hussein after surrendering to the U.S.

Aziz, 67, who has been suffering from heart problems, handed himself over late Thursday after days of negotiations, his family told CNN. He had been concerned about a dignified surrender, added the family, who indicated he was still in Iraq.

The former close adviser to Saddam had been holed up in a relative's home near Baghdad since the fall of the Iraqi regime. His own luxury villa had been looted.

Aziz may have knowledge about the fate of top Iraqi leaders, including Saddam, a U.S. official told CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor. The official described Aziz as "pretty well wired."

While it is thought unlikely that he would know the location of weapons of mass destruction, he "may be able to confirm their existence," the official added.

Two other U.S. officials told CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King that Aziz may have information about Iraqi financial resources and complexes used by regime officials. The officials said it could be some time before any decision is made on Aziz's legal status.

Aziz was connected with Saddam for about 50 years. They were both activists in the Baath Party, but the minister was unusual in the Sunni-dominated hierarchy for being a Christian.

It is not clear what status Aziz, who has been the face of the regime to the outside world for much of the past decade, will have under U.S. custody.

Family members said they were told by coalition officials that the U.S. wanted Aziz to answer a number of questions, not necessarily go to jail.

Aziz, was number 43 on the list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis and was the eight of spades in the deck of cards being circulated by coalition troops.

The former foreign minister, who said on the eve of the war he would rather die than be taken into U.S. custody, had suffered two recent heart attacks.

Nabil Musawi, spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, the longtime opposition group, said the arrest of Aziz and other top officials would allay fears among Iraqis of a return to rule by the Baathists.

Aziz leaves the St. Francis' Basilica, in Assisi, Italy, by car in February 15, 2003 file photo.
Aziz leaves the St. Francis' Basilica, in Assisi, Italy, by car in February 15, 2003 file photo.

Such arrests will help Iraqis "restore" their lives and feel "secure in a new environment," he said.

Aziz, who is a fluent English-speaker, became well known during the 1991 Gulf War and was a member of Saddam's inner circle. But his move to deputy foreign minister was seen as a sign that he was no longer in favor, CNN's Nic Robertson said. (Aziz: The 'gatekeeper')

During the latest conflict Aziz made some appearances including one to deny rumors that he had defected or been shot.


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