Report of Hussein aide's capture doubted

Identity of suspect held in Iraqi custody uncertain

The World

September 06, 2004|By T. Christian Miller | T. Christian Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi officials thought they had the king of clubs.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman announced yesterday morning the capture of one of Iraq's most wanted men, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a trusted confidant of Saddam Hussein and the highest-ranking regime official to remain free.

Al-Douri was No. 6 on the United States' most-wanted list and the king of clubs in the U.S.-issued deck of most-sought fugitives.

In detail, the spokesman told a U.S.-funded television station here how U.S. and Iraqi forces had stormed a medical clinic in the northern city of Tikrit, where al-Douri was receiving treatment for leukemia.

By midafternoon, officials from four Iraqi ministries had all but confirmed al-Douri's capture. They were awaiting the results of a DNA test that one said was "60 percent" done.

But by nightfall, it appeared they had come up empty-handed.

"We don't have any information regarding this issue. What has been said of a statement by the Defense Ministry is baseless," Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan told Lebanon's LBC television channel. He offered no explanation for the confusion.

Meanwhile, a mortar barrage yesterday evening hit a U.S. base on the western edge of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding 16 others, one critically, Maj. Richard Spiegel of the Army's 13th Corps Support Command said.

The soldiers all belonged to the 13th Corps Support, which oversees distribution of fuel, food and water to U.S. forces.

The daylong drama over al-Douri was proof that in Iraq, truth remains elusive even in the highest echelons of the U.S.-backed government.

Besieged by media telephone calls, U.S. officials avoided an outright denial. No, they said, the U.S. military had not conducted operations in Tikrit yesterday. And no, al-Douri was not being held in any U.S. facilities.

U.S. officials simply said they were awaiting more information.

"I can say very firmly that we cannot confirm" news of the capture, a U.S. Embassy official said. "We want to emphasize that we have no confirmation of any of this."

By nightfall, U.S. officials were suggesting that perhaps there had been an operation somewhere else in which Iraqi forces captured somebody who might look like al-Douri.

In Tikrit, there were no signs of a major operation. Medical officials at local clinics and store owners said they had seen no signs of U.S. helicopters or Iraqi forces in the area.

Tikriti security officials professed even more puzzlement. A National Guard commander said his men had conducted no operations in the area.

"If such a thing is happening, everybody knows it," said a police academy official in Tikrit. "I have not heard or seen any kind of confrontation."

By late yesterday, the Iraqi officials who had been so quick to talk with reporters earlier in the day were not answering calls.

Asked to clarify the confusion over his earlier announcement that al-Douri was in National Guard custody, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdelrahman had no answer.

"Call the Defense Ministry," he told a wire service. "These are the people who told us this story."

In other developments yesterday, 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 Al-Jazeera.

Also, a slain Egyptian was found 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 man was believed to have been kidnapped a month ago.

A video purporting to be from an Islamic militant group publicly requested a religious decree from an influential Sunni clerics' organization to clarify whether kidnappings are a justified form of resisting occupation.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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