"First of all you have to punish those who are threatening you."
Michael Yuhanna, aka Tariq Aziz, was born in Tell Kaif, near Mosul in northern Iraq, in 1936. His family were Chaldean Catholics, a minority sect of Iraq's small Christian community. He grew up in Baghdad after moving there with his father, a waiter by trade, and studied English literature before becoming a school teacher.
In the 1950s he became associated with Saddam Hussein, having joined the Baath party possibly as early as 1950. After completing his studies in
1958 he became a journalist and editor of several party publications and served in the party's Damascus press office in the mid-1960s.
The Iraqi monarchy, a British idea, came to an end when king Faisal was killed in 1958. The Baath party continued to seek power for itself and
briefly succeeded in engineering a coup in 1963. They were unable to consolidate their grip on power but had more luck in 1968. From that year
onwards, Aziz, following Hussein, ascended the party ranks. In 1974 Aziz became a member of the powerful Regional Command, and in 1977 assumed the
position of Information Minister as a member of Hussein's Revolution Command Council
In the wake of Hussein becoming the leader of Iraq, Aziz followed him up the greasy pole and was appointed deputy prime minister in 1979. In 1983
he also took over the Foreign Ministry, which he kept until 1991 and returned to briefly in 2001, while keeping his post as deputy prime minister. He was
certainly, and given how much Iraq occupied the public eye of the world, one of the most internationally recognised personalities not to be a head of
state or government.
It's uncertain exactly when he changed his name to Tariq Aziz, meaning "glorious past," but it's thought that he did so in the 1950s and in order
to make his Christian background less prominent, though it continues to earn him mistrust and hostility in the Muslim world, to the extent of a failed
Iran-backed assassination attempt in 1980. Hussein used the attempt as a pretext to start the bloody Iran-Iraq war.
Perhaps the single characteristic that made Aziz such a long-lived (politically and biologically) advisor to Hussein is the fact that, being
part of a tiny and unpopular religious minority, he had no personal or tribal power base which could support him in a bid to seize power for
himself. His unwavering public support for the party tag line and eloquence in defending Iraq's position on the international scene made him the
best-known and most visible figure of the Iraqi government beside Hussein himself. Within the regime he acted as a messenger who would explicate Hussein's directions to other cabinet memebers.
His most significant time in the spotlight came during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the Gulf War in 1991, when he defended Iraq's choices and was seen denouncing "subservient to the US" Arab governments for their lack of support and blasting the United States' policy in the region, something which he did regularly throughout his career in the limelight. He tended to be careful to focus on the US and generally steered clear of insulting the United Nations.
Though his role in international politics diminished during the 1990s, as he briefly fell out of favour when less moderate elements gained more of a voice in the Iraqi command structure and Hussein began doing more of his own talking, he remained the Iraqi regime's chief envoy to the world for a very long time and, if not liked, was at least acknowledged for his abilities as a spokesman and diplomat. The message itself may not be welcome but Aziz was one of the most prominent and skilled messengers on the world scene until the end of Hussein's regime.
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Tariq Aziz surrendered to US military forces on 2003-04-24 and was still in US custody in August 2005.