BAGHDAD — Iraqi special forces are closing in on the most senior member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle still on the run since the 2003 invasion, security sources said today.
Troops backed by helicopters were searching for Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, head of Saddam’s now-outlawed Baath party, in villages around the former ruler’s hometown of Tikrit, 150 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Capturing the most prominent Baath leader would be a major victory for the Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki before provincial elections that will measure his political muscle for the 2014 parliamentary ballot.
“We have solid information that he is in Dour since last night, now we have closed the area, announced a curfew and are searching house by house,” said one senior security officer involved in the operation.
Douri was long believed to be living outside Iraq, and he was last seen in January in a video message encouraging Sunni Muslim protesters to resist Maliki’s government.
Maliki is facing huge Sunni rallies in western Iraq protesting against what they see as the marginalisation of their minority sect since 2003. Many Sunnis feel they have been unfairly targeted for arrest by security forces.
The Shi’ite leader has offered some concessions to protesters, especially in the so-called de-Ba’athification law – meant to keep former Baath party members out of government posts – and Iraq’s tough anti-terrorism laws. (Reuters)