Pro-insurgency website announces death of "field commander" Izzat al-Douri.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Web site run by former top Baath Party members reported Saturday that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking figure from Saddam Hussein's regime still at large, has died. The report followed an e-mail announcing the death, which could not be independently confirmed.
"In the pure land of Iraq, the soul of comrade Izzat Ibrahim returned to God on Friday at dawn," the Web site statement said. It described al-Douri as the "field commander of the heroic resistance" and was signed by the Baath party's "political media and publishing office."
The statement appeared Saturday on a Web site believed run by Salah al-Mukhtar, Iraq's ambassador to India before the collapse of the regime in April 2003 and former head of the External Information Department in Iraq.
An e-mail sent Friday to a Western news agency in the name of the "Arab Socialist Baath Party - Iraq Command" said al-Douri died at 2:30 a.m. Friday but gave no indication of the cause. Al-Douri had been in poor health for years.
Arab satellite television stations broadcast the report of al-Douri's death late Friday based on the e-mail but said they had no independent confirmation. US and Iraqi officials in Iraq also said they were aware of the report but could not verify it.
Members of his family and Baath Party officials in other Arab countries said Friday they had no information beyond what they had heard on the newscasts.
Al-Douri, born in 1942, was one of Saddam's longtime lieutenants and officially the No. 2 man in Iraq's ruling hierarchy when the Baath regime collapsed as US troops occupied Baghdad in April 2003. He was No. 6 on the American "deck of cards" list.
He escaped the US dragnet after the collapse of the regime and had been variously rumored to be in Syria or elsewhere. US officials believed he was a key figure in organizing resistance against the US-led coalition.
Al-Douri had been rumored to be suffering from a serious illness, possibly leukemia, before Saddam's regime fell. He sought medical treatment in Austria in 1999 but had to leave abruptly after human rights groups threatened to file charges against him in Austrian courts.
Last June, the Iraqi government said in a statement that al-Douri was sick and losing influence among Baath party leaders but nonetheless retained his ability to "recruit terrorists and finance terrorist attacks with money he stole from Iraq and transferred to Syria during the rule of the tyrant Saddam."
Al-Douri had been rumored to have been arrested several times before, most notably in September 2004, when Iraqi authorities announced his capture during a raid near his home village near Tikrit. Later, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said the report was false.