Saddam Hussein's former second-in-command, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was seized in northern Iraq, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman told al-Hurra television.
According to Saleh Sarhan, al-Douri was captured while in a clinic where he was receiving medical treatment. "There was a major operation around Tikrit and al-Dour and American forces supported by Iraqi civil defense corps members were able to capture Izzat al-Douri," he told the U.S. government-funded Arabic-language station in a live telephone interview.
Sarhan said al-Douri was handed over to the Americans. "We had received information that he was admitted to a hospital near Tikrit, or let us say a clinic to have blood transfusion," he told al-Hurra. "As soon as we received this information, the forces were able to plan a major operation to arrest him."
However, the US contradicted this claim. A statement from the US military said: "We do not have Izzat Ibrahim al- Douri in custody."
Later, the Iraqi defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, said in an interview with Lebanon's Al Hayat-LBC television that reports that Izzat Ibrahim was captured were "baseless."
"We don't have any information on this issue or on the reports that allegedly came out from the defense ministry," he stressed.
"They are baseless. There are search operations by the national guards troops and multinational troops going on during which some terrorist positions were shelled. There were rumors that Izzat al-Douri or someone who resembles him were in that position but we don't have any information on Izzat specifically," he said.
Another Iraqi official told Reuters US and Iraqi forces have killed 70 of al-Douri's supporters during a battle to capture him in Tikrit. U.S. and Iraqi forces captured a further 80 of his supporters during the clash. Wael Abdul al-Latif added the man believed to be Ibrahim was suffering from leukaemia and his was in poor health.
DNA tests were being carried out to confirm the man's identity.
Izzat Ibrahim, one of Saddam's main aides, has been top of the US most wanted list in Iraq since the capture of the former Iraqi leader in December 2003.
The Americans blamed Ibrahim for coordinating some of the attacks on US-led occupation forces and have offered a $10 million reward for his capture.
Douri was born the son of an ice seller in 1942 near Tikrit.
Douri joined the Baath Party, rising swiftly through the ranks after the 1968 coup in which he was one of the key figures. In the 1970s, he served as both agriculture and interior minister.
Douri was deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and held a senior post on the committee responsible for northern Iraq when chemical weapons were used in 1988.
On that alleged role, war crimes charges have been issued against him in Austria. In 1999, he avoided arrest in Vienna while on a private visit for medical treatment.
Reports said he had escaped several assassination attempts, including in the city of Karbala in 1998.
Four of his nephews were captured on 14 January, 2004. His wife and daughter are still in US custody after being arrested last November. It should be recalled that Douri's daughter was briefly married to Saddam's elder son, Uday.
A few years ago, Douri diagnosed with leukaemia. (albawaba.com)
© 2004 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)