BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi forces on Sunday captured Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most wanted fugitive from Saddam Hussein’s ousted dictatorship, Iraq’s top information official said. Iraqi officials were conducting DNA tests to confirm the prisoner’s identity.
U.S. military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Douri — who was Saddam’s right-hand man before the regime cell — was not in U.S. custody and that they were waiting to hear more from the Iraqis.
U.S. Maj. Neal O’Brien of the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division said he could not confirm al-Douri was captured. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad also said he had no information about an arrest.
Past reports of al-Douri’s arrest have proven false. But several top Iraqi officials said his capture was all but confirmed in a raid on a clinic in the region of Adwar, al-Douri’s hometown, in the region of Tikrit, where Saddam and many of his top officials were from. Saddam was captured Dec. 13 hiding in a safe-house near Adwar.
“We are sure he is Izzat Ibrahim,” information official Ibrahim Janabi said. “He was arrested in a clinic in Makhoul near Tikrit and Adwar (his hometown in northern Iraq) and 60 percent of the DNA test has finished.”
Iraqi Minister of State Qassim Dawoud confirmed al-Douri’s arrest. At a press conference in Kuwait, Qassim said some 150 others who were defending him were also arrested.
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 (news – web sites)’s most wanted man in Iraq. Besides al-Douri, forty-four of the figures on the list have been captured or killed.
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.
Al-Douri was captured when troops set a trap for him at the clinic, where he was receiving medical treatment, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Saleh Sarhan, said. Al-Douri is believed to be suffering 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,” Sarhan told the U.S.-funded, Arabic-language television station Alhurra.
“As soon as we received this information, the forces were able to plan a major operation to arrest him,” he said.
Ahmed Hadi, a spokesman for the minister of state for provincial affairs, said the approximately 150 gunmen with al-Douri clashed with the Iraqi forces. He did not say if there were any casualties. Hadi said the raid was carried out by Iraqi National Guard suppported by U.S. troops, helicopters and tanks.
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. During several house raids on Jan. 14 in the northern city of Samarra, American forces arrested four of al-Douri’s nephews who were suspected of helping move al-Douri to different locations to avoid capture.
Al-Douri was responsible for the now-disbanded Iraqi army’s northern sector, which includes Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit, during the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Elsewhere, a militant group blamed for a mass abduction in Iraq appealed Sunday to an influential Sunni Muslim clerical group to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling, on whether kidnapping is justified in the struggle to oust foreigners from the country.
In a tape broadcast on the Al-Arabiya television channel, a masked man claiming to belong to the group “Holders of the Black Banners” promised the militants would abide by any fatwa put out by the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni clerical organization with alleged ties to insurgents.
A number of Sunni insurgent cells are involved in kidnappings, and it was not known if others would also abide by any fatwa.
The “Holders of the Black Banners” earlier released seven foreign truckers from India, Kenya and Egypt held hostage for six weeks after their Kuwaiti employer paid a $500,000 ransom and agreed to quit working in Iraq.
Abdel Satar Abdel Jabar, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, said the clerics will study the militants’ request.
“To issue an edict on such a subject is not an easy task. Such a call needs a profound study,” he said.
The French government, meanwhile, huddled in crisis talks over the fate of two French reporters held hostage by a separate group in Iraq and said it was still hopeful the pair would be released.
Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded outside an air base used by U.S. forces near Dijiel, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, injuring one American soldier and two Iraqi civilians, the U.S. military said. Three suspects were detained near the site of the attack, said Army Sgt. Robert Powell.
Also Sunday, police found the body of an Egyptian kidnap victim with his hands bound and showing signs he had been badly beaten before being murdered, said Iraqi National Guard Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin.
Militants waging a 16-month insurgency have increasingly turned to kidnapping to force coalition forces and contractors from the country. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2002 and many have been executed.