Iraqis claim capture of Saddam aide after 16 months at large

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The Independent Online

Iraqi forces have arrested a man they believe is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's regime still at large, after a raid in which 70 of his supporters were killed as they tried to prevent him being taken prisoner.

Iraqi forces have arrested a man they believe is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's regime still at large, after a raid in which 70 of his supporters were killed as they tried to prevent him being taken prisoner.

A tall cadaverous-looking man with striking red hair and a violent temper, Izzat Ibrahim, as he was always known, was arrested near Tikrit on Saturday, according to the Iraqi Defence Ministry. The Minister of State, Wael Abdul al-Latif, said it was "75 to 90 per cent certain" they had detained Saddam Hussein's former lieutenant, 16 months after the end of the Iraq war.

But the Defence Minister Hazem Shaalen later denied the reports calling the claims "baseless".

"We don't have any information on this subject or on the reports that allegedly came out from the Defence Ministry," he said. "They are baseless."

As guerrilla attacks mounted last year the US administration began to portray Izzat Ibrahim as the mastermind orchestrating resistance. Iraqi government figures were scornful of this, pointing out that Izzat Ibrahim, though important under Saddam, was not a member of the inner circle. He also suffers from leukaemia and Mr Latif said: "He's in a very deteriorated state of health."

Izzat Ibrahim was detained when he was undergoing medical treatment. "We are sure he is Izzat Ibrahim," said Ibrahim Janabi, an information official. "He was arrested in a clinic in Makhoul near Tikrit and Adwar [his home town] and 60 per cent of the DNA test has finished."

The circumstances in which 70 of his supporters were killed and 80 captured is unclear, though officials hint that fierce fighting had taken place when they attempted a rescue.

The US military denied yesterday that it had Izzat Ibrahim in custody. This is not entirely surprising since the US has been seeking to downgrade the role of its 138,000 soldiers in Iraq and emphasise that of the fledgling Iraqi army and security forces. The US embassy in Baghdad also said it had no information about his arrest.

The capture of Izzat Ibrahim would be a small boost to the interim government, but even the capture of Saddam last December had no long-term impact on the insurgency. The Baath party members involved in the guerrilla war are mostly from the middle ranks of the party, army and intelligence services, according to Iraqi government officials.

Ironically the interim government of Iyad Allawi is courting Baath party members to strengthen its administration and its intelligence service. The Independent first learned of the arrest of Izzat Ibrahim from a grinning former member of Saddam's Mukhabarat who had defected to the opposition some years ago and is back in his old job at a more senior level.

Izzat Ibrahim was born the son of an ice seller near Tikrit in 1942 and had been the chairman of the ruling Revolution Command Council. His daughter was briefly married to Uday, Saddam's elder son, who was killed by US troops last year.

Baghdad is calmer than it was two months ago with more police on the streets and many checkpoints. But suicide bombers have repeatedly punctured any sense of returning normality by attacks causing massive civilian casualties. Many Sunni districts in central Iraq are under the control of well-armed and well-organised insurgents. A police raid for arms in Latafiyah, south of Baghdad, on Saturday led to a gun battle in which 16 policemen were killed. The interim government is seeking to suppress one source of bad news by permanently closing down the office of al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel which has frequently criticised the occupation.

¿ France remained hopeful yesterday that two French hostages in Iraq would be freed after a religious fatwa, issued by the hardline Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mehdi al-Sumaidaie, in Iraq, demanded their release.

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