Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri has been a wanted man since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq in 2003. The King of Clubs in the deck of U.S.-issued cards identifying regime officials, al-Duri has been a fugitive from international justice for over a decade.
Since 2003, the now 72-year-old Ba’athist commander has been directly or indirectly responsible for hundreds of American deaths. He led one of the primary insurgency organizations in Iraq before 2006, and he is believed to have played a key role in the rise of the Islamic State in Syria. Today, he might be dead at the hands of Iraqi Security Forces. At least, that is what some credible reports allege.
“They say he died near the northern town of Hamreen in Irbil province,” the BBC reported. “There have been reports of al-Douri’s death or capture before, but correspondents says [sic] this is the most credible so far.”
The Independent reported on Friday that a local Iraqi governor revealed the news of al-Douri’s death in an announcement on al-Arabiya television. “The station showed an image of a dead man resembling the former Hussein general, though the killing was not independently verified,” the report read.
The “red haired devil” or “red skull,” as he was dubbed, was no doubt a major thorn in the side of the West in its now 12-year-old quest to pacify Iraq.
“In 2006 Al Douri popped up to do an interview with Time Magazine, where he said the Ba’ath party would continue to fight to ‘expel’ US forces. He’s even penned a letter to George W Bush warning US presence in Iraq would turn the country into a ‘world centre’ for terrorism,” read an Australian report from last summer.
Despite persistent reports of ailing health, there’s also speculation Al-Douri is playing an important role in a new, even more brutal regime.
A Stanford University report on Mapping Militant Organisations places him as leader of Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), a group which began as a peaceful society but has grown into a nationalist force believed to have been “providing critical assistance to Islamic State (IS) operations in Iraq.”
The report states Al-Douri may even be acting as commander of IS forces, as their success in capturing Iraqi cities “was dependent on the military expertise and local connections brought by JRTN members.”
But some authorities question al-Douri’s links to the Islamic State. A statement released by the remnants of Hussein’s party release last summer denied any links to the Islamic State group and revealed the organization’s intention to fight against this insurgency. “ISIS is a terrorist organization that carry [sic] the project of destroying the popular revolution sweeping Iraq, and we will stand against it with all our power,” the statement read.
Both al-Douri and ISIS, however, have a common enemy: The Shia-led government in Baghdad. Just last year, the former Iraqi commander surfaced in a video and vowed to destroy former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “Persian” government.
If al-Douri is dead, he would be the last official on that deck of cards to meet his end. For Iraq and the West, that would be a great and unqualified victory.