U.S. troops will continue to search for Saddam Hussein’s chief deputy, the U.S. command said Sunday, casting doubt on an online claim that the suspected architect of the Iraqi insurgency had died.
A Baathist Web site on Saturday reported that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri had died the previous day; another Web site, also purporting to carry statements from the banned party, said al-Douri was alive and apologized for the false report of his death.
“Coalition officials question the validity of the Baath party claim, and a reward of up to $10 million remains for information leading to al-Douri’s capture or his gravesite,” a U.S. statement said. “Numerous reports indicate he is suspected to be in poor health and running out of hiding places and supporters willing to help him in northern Iraq.”
Web site claims unconfirmed
On Saturday, a Web site run by former top Baath Party members reported that al-Douri appeared to confirm an e-mail announcing the death of al-Douri circulated a day earlier.
“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 to be 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.
Not the first claims of al-Douri demise
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NBC News that U.S. authorities have no information to confirm the reports of his death. However, members of the former Baath Party also told NBC’s Baghdad bureau that al-Douri had died.
The sources said while al-Douri was in hiding, he had been moving between the Iraqi cities of Samara and Kirkuk and within the Anbar province.
In the past, NBC cautioned, al-Douri has been reported dead as a way for the dissolved Baath Party to throw off those searching for him.
Iraqi officials 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.
Longtime aide to Saddam
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 U.S. troops occupied Baghdad in April 2003. He was No. 6 on the American “deck of cards” list.
He escaped the U.S. dragnet after the collapse of the regime and had been variously rumored to be in Syria or elsewhere. U.S. officials believed he was a key figure in organizing resistance against the U.S.-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.