Former Saddam deputy arrested in northern Iraq

Sunday, September 5th 2004, 9:21 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ U.S. and Iraqi forces captured Saddam Hussein's former second-in-command, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most wanted former regime figure in Iraq, officials said Sunday.

Al-Douri was captured in a trap set for him at a clinic where he was receiving medical treatment, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Saleh Sarhan, told al-Hurra television. Another official said some 150 gunmen were with al-Douri and clashed with the U.S. and Iraqi troops.

``There was a major operation around Tikrit and al-Dour and American forces supported by Iraqi civil defense corps members were able to capture Izzat al-Douri,'' Sarhan told the U.S. government-funded Arabic-language station in a live telephone interview. Saddam was captured at a safehouse near al-Dour on Dec. 13.

U.S. Maj. Neil O'Brien of the Tikrit-based 1st Infranty Division, however, said he could not confirm the report. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad also said he had no information about an arrest.

Sarhan said authorities knew al-Douri had been in ill health, reportedly from leukemia.

``We had received information that he was admitted to a hospital near Tikrit, or let us say a clinic to have blood transfusion,'' he told al-Hurra. ``As soon as we received this information, the forces were able to plan a major operation to arrest him.''

Iraqi officials have mistakenly reported al-Douri's arrest several times before and neither coalition headquarters in Baghdad nor the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division were immediately able to confirm his capture Sunday.

Sarhan said al-Douri was now in the hands of the Americans.

Al-Douri, who had a U.S. bounty of $10 million on his head, was the highest-ranking member of Saddam's government who was still at large. Once the vice chairman of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council, he was a longtime confidant of Saddam.

He is No. 6 on the U.S. military's list of 55 most wanted figures from Saddam's regime _ the king of clubs in the deck of cards. With the capture of Saddam and others and the slaying of Saddam's son, al-Douri had become the Pentagon's most wanted man in Iraq.

U.S. officials have said he plays a role in organizing the 16-month insurgency campaign against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies, but it was not immediately known how much of an effect his arrest would have.

Ahmed Hadi, a spokesman for the minister of state for provincial affairs, said officials were doing DNA testing to confirm al-Douri's identity.

``To be sure that he is Izzat al-Douri, a sample of his blood has been taken,'' he said. ``It will be examined so that it could be confirmed that he is Izzat al-Douri.''

Hadi said the man was arrested during a raid by U.S. forces and Iraqi National Guard, supported by helicopters and tanks, in the vicinity of Tikrit and the areas around it. The suspect was surrounded by about 150 armed men who clashed with the U.S.-Iraqi forces.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been trying for months to close in on al-Douri.

Late last year, his wife and daughter were detained. In January, U.S. forces conducted numerous raids in and around the northern city of Samarra in search of al-Douri.

During several house raids on Jan. 14 in Samarra, American forces arrested four of al-Douri's nephews who they suspected were aiding in moving Saddam's former right hand man to different locations to avoid capture.