Yuhanna studied English at the Baghdad College of Fine Arts and later worked as a journalist, before joining the Ba'ath Party. He changed his name to Tariq Aziz, which means "Glorious Past". In 1980 he survived an Iranian-backed assassination attempt.
On February 14, 2003, Aziz had an audience with Pope John Paul II and other officials in Vatican City, where, according to a Vatican statement, he communicated "the wish of the Iraqi government to co-operate with the international community, notably on disarmament". The same statement said that the Pope "insisted on the necessity on Iraq to faithfully respect and give concrete commitments to resolutions of the UN Security Council, which is the guarantor of international law".
On March 19, 2003, reports surfaced from Iraq that Aziz had been shot dead while trying to enter the Kurdish part of the country. The rumor was quashed rather quickly when Aziz held a press conference assuring the world he was still alive and well. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, he surrendered to United States forces on April 24, 2003. He was the 43rd of 55 most-wanted Iraqi leadership members sought by U.S. forces after the Fall of Baghdad in the 2003 Iraq War. Before the war, Aziz claimed he would rather die than be a U.S. prisoner of war.