WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- If the times weren't so serious, one would be tempted to laugh at Tariq Aziz's Roman road show. Here was Saddam Hussein's token "Christian" paying the pope a visit, but not kissing his ring. Here he was -- a "Christian," remember? -- refusing to answer an Israeli reporter's question at a press conference, for which he earned hisses from the other journalists. Bless them!
And then we saw Iraq's deputy prime minister, accompanied by Franciscan friars, getting on his knees in Assisi to pray for peace. Would you believe it? The most loyal servant of the genocidal Saddam Hussein presents himself as a faithful man of peace!
Well now, is Tariq Aziz actually a Christian? It's a matter of interpretation. According to bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, first ordinary of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the United States, he is a Christian "because he was baptized."
In fact, he was baptized Michael Yohanna some 66 years ago in the village of Telkaz, near the town of Mosul in northern Iraq. So why does he call himself Tariq Aziz? Because he thought this would make him more acceptable in the eyes of the Muslim majority in Iraq, exiled Iraqis told United Press International on Monday.
Is he still a Christian, then?
"Well," said bishop Ibrahim, "his wife is very faithful. She attends mass every day."
What about Tariq Aziz, though? "No," allowed the bishop, "but I did see him at his mother's and his brother's funerals."
But that doesn't make him a practicing Christian?
"No," admitted the bishop, "a practicing Christian he is not."
Aha, but now he has himself filmed on his knees in Assisi.
"He's just using religion to serve Saddam Hussein's purposes," said Mowfaq Fattohi, a Prague-based member of the opposition Iraqi National Congress's central council, and himself a Chaldean Catholic.
Albert Yelda, the INC's highest-ranking Christian, reported that Tariq Aziz is the one man Christians in his homeland hate the most.
"They found he was not friend. He supported Saddam Hussein's decision that Christians must learn the Koran. He stood behind the government when it denied all basic human and cultural rights to the Assyrians," the ancient minority that has been Christian since the 2nd century A.D.
"Tariq Aziz a Christian? That's laughable," agreed Mohammed Mohammed Ali, a top Shiite Muslim scholar in the INC. "He's an atheist. We all know it. He participated in the repression of all sorts of religious leaders -- Muslim, Jewish and Christian. He was there when many of them were hanged in Baghdad's Albab al-Sharqi Square back in 1969."
"Perhaps 'atheist' is too strong a term," cautioned bishop Ibrahim. "Tariq Aziz is a Baathist." Now, the Baathists are pan-Arab socialists with a strong Socialist bent.
"Well, call him 'laic' in the French sense of the word." Ah, Tariq Aziz, a former English teacher and editor-in-chief of two socialist newspapers is something like a French "instituteur" (elementary school teacher) -- the proverbial antagonist of the Catholic Church.
That may be about right -- but then can you imagine a French "instituteur" on his knees in Assisi?
Most likely, Tariq Aziz is what he is: Just a loyal minion of another Baath Party "laic" and hedonist who nevertheless found it expedient recently to have the entire Koran written in his own blood -- Saddam Hussein.