Iraq’s outlawed Baath Party has announced the death of Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. A statement issued on Sunday by the party’s “executive committee” acknowledged the death of one of the regime’s last “significant” figures.
Al-Douri has been announced as dead by Iraqi authorities several times, only to eventually resurface each time. If Sunday’s statement – which announced that al-Douri has “joined comrade Saddam Hussain” – is accurate, it would end the saga of the second best-known face of Iraq’s 30-year-long dictatorship.
“Today, Izzat Ibrahim, the knight of the Baath and the Iraqi national resistance, got off his horse,” the statement continued.
Born in the town of Dour, al-Douri grew up alongside Saddam Hussein. He joined the Arab Socialist Baath Party, rose through the ranks and held different government positions as minister, after playing a key role in the Baath Party takeover in July of 1968. However, he was mostly known for his closeness and blind loyalty to the late Iraqi dictator, making him one of the most feared figures in the country. He openly threatened Kurds with chemical attacks during the Second Gulf War, which led to a panicked exodus of 1.5 million people to Iran and Turkey in 1991.
At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, al-Douri was in poor health, suffering from leukaemia, but he managed to evade capture. In 2006, after Hussein was hanged in Baghdad, al-Douri took over the leadership of the Arab Socialist Baath Party. He would occasionally release calls for attacks on US soldiers in Iraq, and often decried a rising Iranian influence in the country.
After the US invasion, with a $10 million bounty on his head, al-Douri sought refuge in Iraq’s rural areas, using his ties with the local tribes and his links to the followers of the Naqshbandi Sufi group.
Western intelligence agencies scapegoated him for the start of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014. The last time his name made the headlines was in April of this year, when Iraq’s former interior minister, Baqir Jabr Al-Zubeidi, alleged that al-Douri had launched a “military coup” in Iraq.
In April of 2015, Iraqi Shiite militias circulated images of a red-bearded person resembling al-Douri, reporting him dead, but DNA tests by the Iraqi health ministry showed the body was not his. He later surfaced in a pre-taped video published in 2019, urging Iraqis to take up arms against the “Persian invasion” and “Iranian-backed militias”.
The Baath Party’s statement on Sunday is the closest Iraq had ever got to proof of al-Douri’s fate – that is, if he doesn’t surface again a couple of months from now.