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Robertson: Aziz played gatekeeper role

CNN's Nic Robertson
CNN's Nic Robertson

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition officials announced Thursday that Tariq Aziz, deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein and a frequent spokesman for the regime, is in custody. CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer spoke by phone to CNN's Nic Robertson, who is in Baghdad.

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly Tariq Aziz absolutely at the heart of administration in Iraq for so many years. There were rumors that he had drifted out of favor in recent years.

He did very much come to symbolize the Iraqi regime during the Gulf War. But there was speculation that his move to deputy prime minister in recent years, away from foreign minister, had essentially weakened his position, did not give him a big international voice. He did not play such an important part in the regime.

But every senior international visitor who would come to Baghdad would meet with Tariq Aziz. He was almost the gatekeeper, if you will, for Saddam Hussein, for other members of the Baath party regime in Baghdad. And he will, as much as any of the other leaders within the Baath party, will have huge resources of information about so many aspects of how they ran the country and what programs they may have been administering in terms of weapons of mass destruction, so many things for the regime that the coalition would like to have interest in and perhaps, most importantly, shed light on the whereabouts or what Saddam Hussein may have been thinking. Was he thinking of leaving Iraq? Where would he go? What were his options? Who would he have been talking to? Perhaps Aziz having some insights there into what other members of the Baath party had been planning for in terms of their exit and hiding once the coalition took control of the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, you remember -- it was about, I'm guessing, 10 days or so ago, maybe two weeks ago or so when Tariq Aziz's home in Baghdad, his villa, a very lovely estate, if you will, was ransacked, was looted at that time. I was still out there in the Persian Gulf and I remember several of the Arab, non-Iraqis saying they felt sorry for Tariq Aziz. He was simply trying to do his job under the thumb of a brutal regime. How much sympathy will Tariq Aziz have inside Iraq and outside Iraq right now, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, there certainly may be some people who would feel that way, but many people would remember Tariq Aziz as aligning himself with Saddam Hussein and the Baath party as early as the 1950s and tracking a course with them ever since, being a spokesman for the Baath party in the early 1960s, becoming a member of the regional command in 1974, 1997 becoming one of the top echelon of the party, the Revolutionary Command Council in 1997. There will perhaps be many people who feel he may have been the international public face for the regime -- but was as much part of the regime as many of the others.

He perhaps will be more fondly remembered, possibly, by some elements of the Christian community who maybe looked toward him as representing their views within the leadership within Iraq. But there will be perhaps others who believe he would have sold out and was as much a member of the Baath party, was as much a reason for the problems Iraq, had the war with Iran, the U.N. sanctions, that his and the party's beliefs and followings of Saddam Hussein were the root of the country's problems.

So in some circles he may, yes, find people who would have at least some decent memories of him. But many -- likely many, just as many other people, Wolf, would think of him as being a senior member of the regime. Nothing more, nothing less. The root of their problems.

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