Tariq Aziz Dispels Rumors That He Defected

Published March 19, 2003

| Associated Press

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz appeared at a news conference Wednesday, putting to rest rumors that he had abandoned Baghdad regime of Saddam Hussein.

"I am carrying my pistol to confirm to you that we are ready to fight the aggressors," Aziz said. "American soldiers are nothing but mercenaries and they will be defeated."

Britain's Foreign Office had said it was investigating the rumors, which emerged Wednesday from the northern Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq.

Asked earlier to confirm the rumors, Nabez Rashid Ahmad, the deputy director for the Kurdish Democratic Party's Sulaymaniyah branch, said "he's in KDP-controlled land."

Ismail Sayer, an Iraqi opposition figure in the Democratic Platform of Iraq, also said in a statement faxed from Sofia, Bulgaria, that Aziz had given himself up.

"Tariq Aziz has escaped from Baghdad to the north region," Sayer said in a statement.

Aziz is the only Christian in Iraqi leadership and one of Iraq's best-known voices to world. He was born in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and is thought to have close ties to the area.

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