Iraqi Govt. Says Most-Wanted Saddam Aide Captured

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05. 09. 2004 BAGHDAD ( Reuters ) - Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested a man believed to be the most wanted Saddam Hussein aide still on the run in a bloody raid in which 70 of his supporters were killed and 80 were captured, Iraqi officials said on Sunday.

Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, who was sixth on a U.S. list of the 55 most wanted members of Saddam's administration and had a $10 million price on his head, was captured in Tikrit, Saddam's former powerbase north of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said.

The U.S. military said Ibrahim was not in its custody, and it had no information on whether he was being held by Iraqis.

An aide to Iraq's prime minister said DNA tests were under way to confirm that the captured man was Ibrahim.

"We cannot confirm it is Ibrahim al-Douri until we get the DNA tests back and we match them. They are still doing the DNA tests. A committee of Americans and Iraqis will be conducting the DNA tests," he told Reuters.

Iraqi Minister of State Wael Abdul al-Latif said it was "75 to 90 percent certain" the captured man was Ibrahim. Seventy of the man's supporters were killed and 80 were captured when they tried to prevent him being seized, said Latif.

He said Arabs from outside Iraq had been among the people protecting the man, who was suffering from leukemia.

"He's in a very deteriorated state of health," said Latif.

The U.S. military says Ibrahim has been directly involved in organizing and funding attacks on U.S. forces since the toppling of Saddam in April last year.

KING OF CLUBS

In a deck of cards issued to U.S. troops to help them identify fugitives, Ibrahim was the King of Clubs.

Reports of the capture spread fast in Baghdad, and in some districts residents fired AK-47s in the air in celebration. "He is the symbol of the former regime," said retired civil servant Abbas al-Kabbi, 50. "It is the end of a bloody criminal regime."

Minister of State Kasim Daoud told a news conference in Kuwait that the attempt by scores of people to prevent the arrest confirmed the man was a major figure in the insurgency.

"The presence of the 150 people or more in the area, some of whom tried to defend him, indicates that he was supervising terrorist factions that tried to harm civilians and to stop the democratic growth of the Iraqi homeland," Daoud said.

Ibrahim was Saddam's number two in the Revolutionary Command Council and held a senior post on a government committee in charge of northern Iraq when chemical weapons were used against the town of Halabja in 1988, killing thousands of Kurds.

The red-haired Ibrahim was born in 1942 near Tikrit, some 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad, the son of an ice seller. He was one of Saddam's top aides and most trusted confidants.

His daughter was briefly married to Saddam's elder son Uday.

The top five on the U.S. most wanted list, including Saddam, his sons Uday and Qusay, and "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid, have already been captured or killed.

Daoud said trials of Saddam and other top members of the regime would begin soon. "Saddam Hussein and his band will stand trials within a period of weeks," he said.

FRANCE HOPEFUL ON HOSTAGES

If Ibrahim's arrest is confirmed, the news will be a welcome boost for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's U.S.-backed interim government as it tries to stamp out guerrilla attacks plaguing efforts to rebuild the country and to tackle a hostage crisis.

France said it remained hopeful two French hostages in Iraq would be freed, although its foreign minister returned empty-handed from a Middle East diplomatic mission.

"We have serious reasons to believe both of them are in good health and that a favorable outcome is possible," Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters after discussing the hostage crisis with President Jacques Chirac.

"Our top priority today remains to secure their release. Our priority is their safety," he said. "We are working hard, calmly, cautiously and discreetly."

Journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were seized on Aug. 20 by the Islamic Army in Iraq militant group, which demanded Paris rescind a law banning Muslim headscarves in state schools. France refused the demand.

Paris was shocked to be caught up in the hostage crisis as it opposed the war in Iraq and has no troops in the country.

Militants have turned to kidnapping foreigners as part of a campaign to force firms and foreign troops to leave Iraq. About two dozen foreign hostages have been killed.

Police said the body of an Egyptian who was kidnapped last month had been found in northern Iraq. The body bore signs of torture, with hands and legs bound together, they said.

Al Jazeera reported four Jordanians had been taken hostage.

A group called the Falluja Mujahideen sent a video tape to the Arabic television channel saying the four men were drivers transporting materials to U.S. forces.

Employers of a Turkish truck driver seized in Iraq have agreed to pull out of the country after his captors threatened to behead him, Turkey's state Anatolian news agency reported.




Source: Reuters










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