Tariq Aziz says West misjudged Saddam Hussein

Image caption, Tariq Aziz is now in Qadhimiyah prison in north Baghdad

Former Iraqi deputy PM Tariq Aziz has staunchly defended Saddam Hussein in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

Interviewed by the UK daily in his Iraq prison cell, Aziz said the West was wrong about the former Iraqi president.

"He is a man who history will show served his country," he said, adding that Iraq was now much worse off.

He also criticised US President Barack Obama for pushing forward with the US troop withdrawal, saying he was "leaving Iraq to the wolves".

Aziz was the face of Saddam Hussein's regime on the world stage for many years.

In his first interview since he was captured shortly after the fall of Baghdad more than seven years ago, Aziz said that pulling out US combat troops before the country was stable would be lethal for Iraq.

"We are all victims of America and Britain," he was quoted as saying. "They killed our country in many ways. When you make a mistake you need to correct a mistake, not leave Iraq to its death."

He also said that Iraq was in a much worse state now than when Saddam Hussein was leading the country.

"For 30 years Saddam built Iraq and now it is destroyed. There are more sick than before, more hungry. The people don't have services. People are being killed every day in the tens, if not hundreds.

"I was encouraged when [Obama] was elected president, because I thought he was going to correct some of the mistakes of Bush. But Obama is a hypocrite. He is leaving Iraq to the wolves."

Aziz claimed that even during the time when Iraq was subject to UN-enforced sanctions and the oil-for-food programme, the country was stable and Iraqis were properly fed.

"Even during the time of sanctions, which is a difficult time in the life of any country, every day, every man, woman and child was taking 2,000 calories per day."

Churchill comparison

With his fluent English, trademark black-rimmed glasses and Cuban cigars, Aziz first came to world prominence while serving as foreign minister during the first Gulf War in 1991.

In his interview with The Guardian, Aziz claimed he tried to persuade Saddam Hussein not to invade Kuwait in 1991, because it would lead Iraq into a war with the US.

"I asked Saddam Hussein not to invade Kuwait," he said. "But I had to support the decision of the majority. When the decision was taken, I said to him this is going to lead to war with the US, and it is not in our interests to wage war against the US."

"But the decision was taken. I was the foreign minister of the country and I had to defend the country and do everything possible to explain our position. I stayed on the side of right."

Aziz also said he loved and respected his former leader and refused to condemn him for decisions he made.

"Didn't Churchill make mistakes? Didn't Brown make mistakes?" he asked.

However, in one cryptic remark he seemed to imply that his loyal view of Saddam Hussein's leadership was not the full picture.

"If I speak now about regrets, people will view me as an opportunist. I will not speak against Saddam until I am a free man. Wisdom is part of freedom. When I am free and can write the truth, I can even speak against my best friend," he said.

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