The name Barzan al Tikriti was very popular in Arab and European circles in the late 1980s during his stint as Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. No Arabs held important diplomatic posts in the organization at the time and it became clear that Barzan’s job was nominal. According to rumors circulating at the time, Barzan had disagreed with his brother over the president’s repressive policies and left his post in the intelligence services, seeking refuge in the Swiss capital, and that he had cut off his links with the regime. Barzan then became active in Paris and London as a spokesperson for the Iraqi government. He appeared as an intellectual, an intelligent person who cared for human rights and opposed Saddam. But these humane stories were doubtful for one reason: The Iraqi regime in its entirety was merciless towards all those who dared to oppose it. It was, without a doubt, the most repressive Arab government.
Barzan’s rose-colored propaganda which claimed he had parted company with the Iraqi regime and that he was the kinder version of his brother, Saddam Hussein, did not succeed. For years, he remained a marginal character until his appearance in the defendants’ cage with his brother and other former Iraqi officials, for their role in the Dujail case. Behind bars, Barzan’s true nature was exposed. Saddam appeared smartly dressed, more in control, better spoken and more independent. But his companion in the defendants’ cage emerged as lost, poorly dressed, evil and irrational.
Rumors often find a receptive audience, whereas the truth remains buried until someone uncovers it. If an important personality such as Barzan had remained in Switzerland and was not caught in his house in Ramadi, perhaps the truth behind this secretive man and his role in Iraqi politics would have died with him. We would have only known that he spent four years as head of the intelligence services before suddenly leaving Baghdad, amidst rumors of disagreements with Saddam. He returned to the Iraqi capital when Washington put pressure on him and Switzerland refused to grant him asylum, despite his considerable fortune. After the war and Saddam’s defeat, he became a wanted man. Barzan believed the propaganda methods he used in Europe could save him from his pursuers. He promoted the rumor that he had been killed during a raid on his house in the south but his genes failed him. DNA tests showed the body was not Barzan’s. He remained in hiding until one of his companions decided to reveal Barzan’s whereabouts for a handful of dollars. Barzan continued to use the media to try and save himself for an almost-certain death sentence and announced he was sick, invoking the sympathy of world leaders, including his foes.
Barzan cannot be blamed for his attempt to save himself from death. But his talents and publicity did not help him much. He did not appear intelligent, cultured, humane, or respectful, even when pleading for his life.