Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat- Despite living in the Jordanian capital, Ziad Aziz and Saddam Hussein’s two daughters are not in contact. Ziad laughed when I brought up the subject of Raghd, the daughter of Iraq’s former dictator, and asked if he was aware of her financial difficulties.
“Ask anyone across Jordan and they will tell you about her shopping and her visits to gyms and travel in first class. I am not interested in her situation. My main worry is to save my father”, he said.
One of the old regime’s most visible faces and a former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz surrendered to the US military in April 2003, after the fall of Baghdad, and negotiated his family’s safe exit to Jordan. He has remained in prison since then but has yet to be charged. According to recent reports, his health has rapidly deteriorating, prompting family members to fear for his life.
I met his eldest son Ziad in his home in Amman. Below is the interview in full.
Q: What do you know about your father’s health?
A: My lawyer informed me that my father has lost 6kg in weigh in the period starting 18 December until now. This is not normal and we do not know what is causing it. My father suffers from high blood pressure and takes 12 pills a day. I am aware the Americans have allowed him to continue receiving treatment. I also heard that he lost his teeth two months ago and is still awaiting a denture.
Q: Have you been in contact with the Red Cross?
A: The Red Cross has not acted on this issue. We sent tens of letters and some clothes but when he contacted us during Christmas, he said he had not received anything.
Q: I believe your family visited him…
A: Yes, this is correct… We were allowed to visit him on two occasions. My mother and sister traveled for 14 hours and met my father for half an hour only. They were separated by a glass wall. They returned [to Jordan ] in a pitiful state. They are now back in Iraq in an attempt to obtain information about his health condition. But they do not have a permit to visit him.
Q: Did your father consult you when he decided to hand himself over?
A: No… it was his decision. We had nowhere to go. We had to leave our house before the war began. We knew about the playing cards [on which the names and photos of senior officials in Saddam’s regime were printed]. My father told me he planned to surrender and that it was important to prepare a place where my mother, brother and sisters could go too We have many friends in Jordan . The only thing my father asked when he surrendered is for his family to be transported to the Iraqi-Jordanian border and to verify that Jordan will host us. The border had been shut during the war. We said our goodbyes to my father and my brother Saddam, my mother, my wife and three children and I left for Jordan . My sisters joined us later. One of their husbands had been kidnapped by a militia and was only released after we paid 55 thousand dollars.
Q: did you believe that Iraq could emerge victorious in a war with the United States?
A: Of course not. I was aware that we could confront America but not defeat it. On the other hand, what other choices did we have?
Q: Why didn’t you take your family to Jordan before the war started?
A: As Tariq Aziz’s sons and daughters, we couldn’t do that. What would Iraqis have thought?
Q: What has happened to your house in Iraq?
A: The Shiaa came and stole all the marble and destroyed everything. Abdulaziz al Hakim [the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq] currently uses the house as an office where he holds press conferences… I feel very upset when I see such things happening on TV.
Q: How would you describe your exchanges with your father since you moved to Jordan?
A: There has been no contact. We received one phone call in twelve months. Since being in prison, he has telephoned us five times. We went through difficult times when we heard two weeks ago that the US military freed senior official in Saddam’s regime, including Dr. Huda Ammash. My father’s legal team told us he has yet to be charged so we do not know why he hasn’t been released.
Q: What are you currently doing in Jordan?
A: I was a civil engineer in Iraq but since coming here, I have been unable to find work. I have tried… I believe the reason is political, I don’t know… I am concentrating now on saving my father.
Q: I heard about Raghd Saddam Hussein and her sister Rana’s lifestyle. How would you describe yours?
A: Things are different for this family. I live with my mother, wife and children in a rented furnished apartment. My brother Saddam lives in Yemen. We do not live like Raghd.
Q: You claim that you are not in touch with her. Did you know each other in Iraq?
A: No…no… she’s the president’s daughter. No one can contact her. My family leads a different life. I am not interested in her situation. I want to save my father. I want my father to receive the appropriate medical treatment and everything else that can save his life.
Q: Some of the readers might say that the way in which Saddam Hussein used to treat Iraqis in jail was more than just a breach of human rights.
A: Saddam used to act in this manner. He is responsible for all these things, not my father.
Q: But your father was one of the most senior officials in Saddam’s regime. Was he aware of what was happening?
A: What could he have done? My father couldn’t have stopped Saddam. My father worked alongside Saddam for 35 years but his role was in international politics. He had no links to what was happening inside Iraq. If there is anything against him, it should be presented to the court, in order for the truth to be uncovered. Nevertheless, he should not remain imprisoned without any charges being brought against him.