BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities said Sunday that they captured Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the most senior member still at large from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime, though one top Iraqi official later disputed the report.

Unlike after the capture of Saddam, no television footage of the man suspected of being Saddam’s right-hand man was released. Inundated with questions, the U.S. military announced it knew nothing about a capture and did not have al-Douri in its custody.

“We are sure he is Izzat Ibrahim,” said Ibrahim Janabi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The suspect was captured after an armed raid on a medical clinic near al-Douri’s hometown of Ad Dawr, where he had been receiving treatment, and near where Saddam was captured in December, Janabi said. A DNA check was being performed late Sunday to confirm the suspect’s identity, officials said.

But later, Iraqi defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, told Lebanon’s Al Hayat-LBC television that reports that al-Douri was captured were “baseless,” according to The Associated Press.

The two-month-old Iraqi government has wrongly reported al-Douri’s capture before, though few cases have included such firm declarations from high-ranking officials. U.S. military units in the Tikrit area, which includes Ad Dawr, have not been involved in any large-scale raids in recent days, officials said.

“There were rumors that Izzat al-Douri or someone who resembles him were in that position (of recent raids), but we don’t have any information on Izzat specifically,” he said.

Once the vice chairman of the Baath Party’s Revolutionary Command Council, al-Douri was a longtime Saddam confidant. During the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, he was responsible for the former Iraqi military’s northern region, comprising Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit.

In November, U.S. troops arrested his wife and daughter in an effort to gather intelligence or bring pressure on the former Baath leader to come forward.

The move drew criticism from human-rights groups who said international law prohibits holding family members as leverage to trap a suspect. It is unclear if the women, who were still in custody in May, have been released.

A series of U.S.-led raids in January in the northern city of Samarra also led to the capture of four of al-Douri’s nephews, suspected of helping al-Douri live on the run.

Troop attacks

U.S. defense officials have told Congress that al-Douri is believed to play a role in organizing attacks on U.S. troops, a campaign of car bombings and the transfer of cash throughout the insurgency.

Iraqi leaders offered inconsistent details Sunday on the reported capture.

Iraqi Minister of State Qassim Dawoud told a news conference in Kuwait that 150 were arrested along with guards who were defending al-Douri. Col. Adnan Abdulrahman, spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told the U.S.-supported Radio Sawa that Iraqi security forces killed 70 of the guards and arrested 80 others.

The object of the raid was receiving treatment in the clinic at the time. Al-Douri is believed to suffer from leukemia. During the arrest, the suspect allegedly used a fake name, identifying himself by the family name al-Obeidi, Abdulrahman said.

If confirmed, al-Douri’s capture is not likely to have a sizable effect on the Iraqi insurgency. The arrest of Saddam on Dec. 13, in an underground refuge in Ad Dawr, produced a short dip in attacks on U.S. forces, before the rate of attacks climbed steadily through the spring. Since then, foreign fighters – some linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – have emerged to play a consistent and prominent role in the Iraqi insurgency.

In other developments Sunday, a videotape purporting to be from an Islamist militant group behind a major kidnapping in Iraq publicly requested that an influential Sunni clerics’ organization render a religious decree to clarify if kidnappings are a justified form of resisting occupation. More than 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since last year’s invasion, spawning gruesome beheadings posted on the Internet.

The Holders of the Black Banners group recently released seven truck drivers from India, Kenya and Egypt after their Kuwaiti firm paid a $500,000 ransom. Two French journalists are still being held, despite several days of expectation they would be released.

A spokesman for the clerics’ group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the group was “examining the issue.” Abdul Sattar Abdul Jabbar also suggested that he thinks truck drivers are a legitimate target.

(EDITORS: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

“I ask you,” he said. “Is someone who is driving a truck to deliver supplies and food to the army cooperating with the occupation?”

The fatwa request came as a Turkish transport company and a Kuwaiti firm that contracted it announced they have stopped doing business in Iraq in an attempt to secure the release of a Turkish driver taken hostage by Iraqi militants, the Associated Press reported.

In a new kidnapping report, an Iraqi militant group said it abducted four Jordanian truck drivers who it claims were delivering items for U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a tape obtained by the Al Jazeera TV station.

Also Sunday, a slain Egyptian kidnap victim was found near Beiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, his hands bound and his body showing signs of beatings, said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin. Amin said the Egyptian was believed to have been kidnapped a month ago.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.