Pentagon names al-Douri as rebel link with al-Qa'ida

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The Independent Online

A senior defence official at the Pentagon has claimed that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former aide of Saddam Hussein, is working with al-Qa'ida to co-ordinate attacks in Iraq ­ a claim probably motivated by the Pentagon's embarrassment at having so little information on the suicide bombers and guerrilla resistance.

The official said that Izzat Ibrahim, the former chairman of the Revolution Command Council, had been named by two captured members of Ansar al-Islam, a small Kurdish Islamic group with connections to al-Qa'ida, as a force behind some of the attacks.

Izzat Ibrahim, notorious for his ill-temper and violence, suffers from leukaemia and looks older than his 61 years. Though important in the Iraqi leadership he was never in the innermost circle. He was born near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, and his daughter was once married to Uday, Saddam Hussein's eldest son.

But he was not considered by many Iraqis to be influential. On hearing of the Pentagon's claim, one well-informed Iraqi said: "I don't believe that a nonentity like that is orchestrating all this turmoil."

In the months before the war the US administration tried to link Saddam to al-Qa'ida, but was unable to because Islamic militants had always been persecuted by the former Iraqi leader. The only organisation that had links with al-Qa'ida was Ansar al-Islam, which had several hundred militants in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, in an area outside the control of Baghdad, and close to the Iranian border.

Even in Kurdish politics Ansar al-Islam was considered a peripheral player until it was denounced by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, at the UN Security Council. Its main base was destroyed by American air attack and Kurdish forces backed by US special forces at the start of the war.

Supporters of the former regime may have linked up with al-Qa'ida or Islamic militant organisations, but American commanders say that guerrilla attacks are 95 per cent the work of Iraqis. Kurdistan is also an unlikely base for al-Qa'ida, because the US occupation is popular with the Kurds.

Iraqis generally say they believe that the suicide bombings, which killed 34 people earlier this week, are launched by non-Iraqi Arabs, who could easily enter Iraq across any of its long unguarded borders.