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Posted 11/11/2005 4:14 PM Updated 11/11/2005 5:51 PM
Mideast stirs over reports Saddam's No. 2 has died
BAGHDAD (AP) — A statement circulated in the name of the Baath Party said Friday that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the highest-ranking figure from Saddam Hussein's regime still at large, had died. The report could not be independently confirmed.
The report was based on an e-mail sent to a Western news agency and signed by the "Arab Socialist Baath Party — Iraq Command." It said al-Douri died at 2:30 a.m. Friday but gave no indication of the cause.
U.S. officials believed al-Douri played a key role in organizing resistance that erupted in 2003 against the U.S.-led coalition and was instrumental in forging links between remnants of Saddam's regime and Islamic extremists.
However, it was unclear whether al-Douri, who had been in poor health for years, still played a direct role in commanding the insurgents. In June, the Iraqi government said he was losing influence among the pro-Saddam wing of the insurgency.
In Washington, a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the information's sensitivity, could not confirm al-Douri's death.
Arab satellite television stations broadcast the report based on the e-mail but said they had no independent confirmation. U.S. and Iraqi officials in Iraq also said they were aware of the report but could not verify it.
Abdul-Rahman Mohammed Ibrahim, nephew and son-in-law of al-Douri, said he had heard the report on an Arab satellite television station but had no independent confirmation.
"We don't have such news," he told The Associated Press. "I cannot deny or confirm the report."
In Amman, Jordan, the secretary-general of the Jordanian Baath wing, Tayseer al-Homsi, also said he had no information except what he had seen on television newscasts. There was no such statement on Baath websites.
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.