By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and VIVIAN SALAMA
BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraqi officials said they believe that government forces on Friday killed Saddam Hussein’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who remained a wanted fugitive since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and who later allied himself with Islamic State militants.
Al-Douri was known as the “king of clubs” in the deck of playing cards issued to help U.S. troops identify key members of Saddam’s regime.
He was killed by Iraqi soldiers and allied Shiite militiamen in a government operation to the east of Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, the Salahuddin provincial governor, Raed al-Jabouri, told The Associated Press.
The operation was taking place in the Talal Hamreen mountains, al-Jabouri said.
A series of graphic photos issued by the government later Friday purport to be of al-Douri’s corpse. A bright red beard and a moustache – the moustache was al-Douri’s most distinguishing feature among Saddam’s coterie – were visible in the photos.
Senior Iraqi regional commander, Gen. Haider al-Basri, told Iraqi state TV that al-Douri and nine bodyguards were killed by gunshots while riding in a convoy. Al-Basri did not elaborate why the Iraqi forces opened fire at the convoy.
DNA tests were underway to confirm the identity of the body, Iraqi intelligence officials told The AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
This is not the first time Iraqi officials claimed to have killed or captured al-Douri. In 2003, the government said it arrested al-Douri, circulating a photo of a bearded man who resembled the former Baathist. It later said it was a case of mistaken identity.
Al-Douri was officially the No. 2 man in Iraq’s ruling hierarchy when the Baathist regime collapsed as U.S. troops occupied Baghdad. He disappeared after the U.S. invasion and was widely rumored to be in hiding in northern cities in Iraq that bred Sunni insurgent groups.
When Tikrit was overrun by the Sunni militant group last June, witnesses said fighters raised posters of Saddam and al-Douri. Fighters loyal to his Naqshabandi Army as well as former members of Saddam’s Baath Party were the main militant force in Tikrit at the time of its capture, local residents told The AP at the time.
Iraqi security forces recaptured al-Douri’s hometown of Dawr in March as part of its large-scale offensive to retake Tikrit. Government forces seized control of Tikrit on April 1.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Baghdad.
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