Most-wanted fugitive is reported captured in Iraq

April 24, 2008|By Ned Parker and Saif Hameed | Ned Parker and Saif Hameed,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- An Arab satellite news channel reported that a man suspected of being Izzat Ibrahim Douri, who tops Iraq's most-wanted list, was captured yesterday by Iraqi soldiers in the northern part of the country.

The Al Arabiya channel said that the suspect was caught during a raid in the Hamrin mountains that straddle Salahuddin, Diyala and Tamim provinces and that Iraqi officials were conducting DNA tests to confirm his identity.

The U.S. military said it had no information on the raid, and one officer cautioned that there had been previous false alarms about the alleged capture of Douri in 2004 and 2005.

"At this point, we can say that he is not in Coalition custody and we have no reports that he was captured by Iraqi security forces either," the U.S. military said in a statement.

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, said he could not confirm that Douri had been captured. He told Al Arabiya that the suspect had been brought to Baghdad for DNA testing.

An Iraqi army official said the arrest took place in the early evening and the detainee bore a resemblance to the red-headed Douri, who had a reputation for ruthlessness and earned the sobriquet "the iceman" for his early years selling ice on the streets of Baghdad.

Douri, who served as Saddam Hussein's vice president and deputy chairman of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council, is believed to head an armed wing of the Baath Party in Iraq. He is reportedly suffering from leukemia.

The United States ranked Douri No. 6 on its most-wanted list after its 2003 invasion. He was dubbed the king of clubs in the military-produced card deck of most-sought fugitives. Douri has remained the highest-ranking figure from the old regime still on the run.

Also yesterday, a U.S. soldier was killed by gunfire in eastern Baghdad, which has been shaken by fighting between the U.S. army and elements of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the military said.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III called on al-Sadr to rein in his followers after days of costly fighting between the Mahdi Army militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces in Sadr City.

"We certainly hope Sadr will choose the road of peace and responsibility," Austin, the No. 2 U.S. military general commander in Iraq, said in his first news conference since arriving in Iraq in January.

The general made clear distinctions between the mainstream Mahdi Army and other fighters the Americans call special groups, which the U.S. military believes are funded by Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had blamed the Mahdi Army for violence in southern Iraq and in Baghdad on a visit Sunday to Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been edging into Sadr City to erect a concrete wall to partition the area, from which militiamen regularly fire rockets and mortar shells at the Green Zone, the compound that holds the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy.

Clashes between U.S. forces and the Shiite militiamen spread since late Tuesday into Husseiniya, on Baghdad's northern outskirts. U.S. soldiers came under rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire Tuesday night while recovering a Bradley fighting vehicle that was stuck in the mud there, said Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a military spokesman. Six suspected militants were killed in the engagement that followed, he said by e-mail.

Iraqi police said sporadic exchanges continued into the morning yesterday, killing at least four Iraqis and injuring eight. They did not specify whether the casualties were fighters or civilians caught in the fighting. The U.S. military said yesterday that it killed 15 other suspected militants in other exchanges in Shiite militia strongholds late Tuesday.

Ned Parker and Saif Hameed write for the Los Angeles Times.

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