BAGHDAD, Iraq - Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister who often served as the public face of Saddam Hussein's government, surrendered to American forces yesterday, U.S. officials said.
Aziz, who had been in hiding since the fall of Baghdad, is one of the few Iraqi leaders widely recognizable in the West because of his history as a diplomat at the United Nations.
"We can confirm Tariq Aziz is now under coalition control," said Central Command spokeswoman Capt. Dani Burrows.
Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat and former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said last night the arrest of another top Iraqi official, in Syria, would be announced shortly.
Graham, at a session of the Council on Foreign Relations, declined to identify the Iraqi, saying only that he held one of the most sensitive positions in the Iraqi government and was arrested in the past 24 hours.
Aziz was often the public face of Iraq when responding to accusations by the United States and United Nations.
He was the only Christian in Hussein's inner circle, most of whom were Sunni Muslims like Hussein. He served as foreign minister during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and was a frequent spokesman at that time.
Aziz last appeared in public March 19, when he held a news conference in Baghdad to quash rumors he had fled the Iraqi capital.
"I am carrying my pistol to confirm to you that we are ready to fight the aggressors," Aziz said then. "American soldiers are nothing but mercenaries and they will be defeated."
Although he was one of Hussein's most loyal aides, Aziz, like most non-Tikritis, had virtually no power, U.S. officials have said. That could explain his longevity in Hussein's inner circle - without an independent power base, he posed no threat.
In recent years Aziz did not have the international profile he had in the 1990-1991 gulf crisis when, as Iraqi foreign minister, he was virtually "Mr. Iraq" to the world's media.
Hussein promoted him after the gulf war to deputy prime minister, forcing him to relinquish the foreign ministry portfolio. Some believe this reshuffle had to do with Hussein's not liking a Cabinet minister to become too well known.
Others point to the fact that Hussein's son Odai did not like Aziz. Odai's newspaper, Babil, often criticized foreign policy. In 1996, Aziz's son Ziad was arrested for corruption in what Baghdad insiders saw as a turf battle between Ziad and Odai, who was equally known for graft.
However, Tariq Aziz retained weight within the government. He was Hussein's deputy on the foreign affairs and media committees, in which positions he interpreted Hussein's policies to the ministers concerned. He also conducted the government's negotiations with the U.N. weapons inspectors.
When Hussein fired Aziz's replacement as foreign minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, in 2001, he appointed Aziz as acting foreign minister for four months until Naji Sabri was given the post.
Al-Sahhaf's new post was as Iraq's information minister, which he used during the latest war to denounce the U.S.-led invasion and famously deny that American troops were in Baghdad after they had already captured the capital's international airport.
Born in 1936 near the northern city of Mosul, Aziz studied English literature at Baghdad College of Fine Arts and became a teacher and journalist. He joined the Baath Party in 1957, working closely with Hussein to overthrow British-imposed monarchy.
Aziz changed his name from Mikhail Yuhanna. In Arabic, Tariq Aziz means "glorious past."