Middle East

Saddam aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri 'killed' in Iraq

Media captionThe BBC's Mohamed Yehia says that al-Douri was "one of Saddam's closest aides"

Fugitive Iraqi militant leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was right-hand man to Iraq's ex-leader Saddam Hussein, has been killed, Iraqi officials say.

They say he died in fighting in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. His supporters have denied the claim.

Douri, 72, led the Naqshbandi Order insurgent group, a key force behind the recent rise of Islamic State (IS).

He was deputy to Saddam Hussein, who was ousted when US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and executed in 2006.

Douri was regarded as the most high-profile official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to successfully evade capture after the invasion, and had a large bounty on his head for years.

He was the King of Clubs in the famous pack of cards the US issued of wanted members of Saddam Hussein's regime after its defeat.

Body picture

There have been reports of Douri's death or capture before and the now-dissolved Baath party denied the latest claim.

However, al-Arabiya TV showed a picture of what it said was Douri's body.

The remains have now been transferred to Baghdad for DNA testing, according to the Popular Mobilisation Forces - an umbrella group of Shia militia fighting IS.

Salahuddin governor Raed al-Jabouri said he had died during an operation by soldiers and allied Shia militiamen east of Tikrit - a city that was recaptured by the government two weeks ago.

Analysis - Sebastian Usher, BBC World Service

The death of the last major figure from Saddam Hussein's regime still on the run, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri - if confirmed - is a final twitch of the curtain falling on that era in Iraqi history. But his role after Saddam's fall has been more significant. He led a hard core of loyalists to the defeated regime, who helped fuel and prolong the insurgency against its successors.

An elusive figure, his death was reported and then retracted several times. There were various rumours about where he was based, inside or outside Iraq - and his health was believed to have all but incapacitated him. But he reappeared - on tape, at least - as Islamic State militants were seizing Mosul and Tikrit last year. He urged Iraqis to join the Sunni jihadists' fight.

There's little doubt that Saddam-era officials and military commanders have played a key role in making IS the fighting force it is. How big a role Mr Douri actively played in this is open to question, as is any direct and continuing alliance between his militia and IS. So his death is symbolically significant, but may have little practical effect on the ground.

Douri's Naqshbandi Order is the main Baathist insurgent group. Despite its secular roots, it is believed to have played a key role in a major offensive by Islamic State last year.

IS seized swathes of territory in eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq, in an effort to establish an Islamic "caliphate".

But in recent months Iraqi forces - backed by US-led air strikes since August - have recaptured 25% to 30% of the territory initially lost to IS.

The jihadist group still controls large areas, including the second city of Mosul, in the north.

Militants staged a number of attacks on Friday. In the capital, Baghdad, a series of bombings claimed by IS left at least 30 people dead.

The deadliest explosion was close to an outdoor market.

In the northern city of Irbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, a bomb killed three people and injured five, near the US consulate. Attacks in this area are relatively rare.

Meanwhile, thousands of civilians continued to flee Ramadi, amid escalating violence in the city. Families have been making their way towards Baghdad, but have criticised government regulations that require each person to have a sponsor in the capital.

One woman told BBC Arabic: "We've been walking for two days and the bridge to Baghdad is blocked. My child was dying before the police came to help."

The violence in Iraq has been fuelled by the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The government is dominated by politicians belonging to the Shia majority and backed by Shia militias. IS and other insurgent groups are Sunni.

Iraq timeline

  • 2003: Saddam Hussein ousted after US invasion - executed in 2006
  • 2006-7: Height of insurgency and sectarian killings
  • 2007: A surge in US troop numbers curbs violence - US troops withdraw in 2011
  • 2012-2014: Resurgence of sectarian violence as hard-line Shia hold power
  • 2014: IS seizes large parts of north and west, leading to US air strikes in June
  • 2015: Government regains territory in counter-offensive.