BAGHDAD –Iraq’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party announced Monday the death of prominent leader Izzat al-Douri, who was the vice-president of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from his accession to power in 1979 until his fall in 2003.
The announcement came in an audio recording via the official Facebook account of the party, which has been banned in Iraq since 2003.
The Ba’ath party mourned Douri, who died at the age of 78, saying, “On the land of Iraq and the land of equanimity and Jihad, comrade Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the Knight of the Ba’ath party and the Iraqi National Resistance, got off his horse today.”
The party added, “In view of this serious event, we are confident, comrades of the struggle, that you will commit to the will of our late comrade who bid us all to abide by principles, be patient and adhere to the values of the party.”
Douri was born in 1942 to a poor Iraqi family. He studied in Samarra and Baghdad, and then joined the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party.
Douri was imprisoned many times, and his longest term was from 1963 to 1967. He was released as part of what would be known as the July 17 Revolution of 1968 that led to the overthrow of the regime of President Abdel Rahman Aref and the rise of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power.
Douri was appointed head of the Supreme Committee for Popular Action and held many political positions, including minister of agriculture and agrarian reform.
In November 1974, he was appointed as interior minister.
For more than 20 years, Douri was known as Saddam’s right-hand man and his deputy.
Following the 2003 US-led intervention in Iraq, he became one of the most wanted people on the United States’ list of figures from the former regime and has remained in hiding over the past years, making few official statements, some of which supported ISIS after it took control of several cities in Iraq.
Douri’s latest appearance was in April 2019, when he delivered a speech via video recording and apologised to Kuwait for the 1990 invasion.
The Iraqi Army occupied Kuwait in 1990 and declared it as the 19th province of Iraq. In February 1991, the Iraqi Army eventually left the neighbouring country under pressure from an international military coalition led by the United States.
Over the past few years, many rumours have circulated about Douri dying. The latest rumour came in 2018, when Iraqi media outlets reported that a source close to Raghad Saddam Hussein’s lawyer, Haitham Nabil al-Harsh, had said Douri died in a hospital in Tunis after a struggle with a blood disease, without explaining the nature of the disease and the location of the hospital. Saddam Hussein’s daughter, however, denied the reports.
In recent years, mystery surrounded Douri’s activities, especially after he supported the Sufi Naqshbandi Movement, which turned into a secretive and highly disciplined armed group after the 2003 invasion.
The name Douri reemerged earlier this month after Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, a former Iraqi minister of interior under former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, alleged that Douri was involved in a plot to carry out a military coup in the country.
In a post published October 3 on his Facebook page entitled “The Next Military Coup in Iraq,” Zubeidi said, “The meetings held by the dissolved Ba’ath Party in America and other Western countries are the nucleus of what is happening now in terms of unrest led by the party’s military wing.”
The former minister alleged at that time that “intensive training” was carried out by the Ba’ath’s military wing in the northern Diyala province east of the capital Baghdad and in what is known as the “Triangle of Death” (Makhoul, Khanouka and the Hamrin Mountains).
The purpose of these training exercises, according to Zubeidi, was to support the alleged plot, which would see officers from the pre-2003 US invasion of Iraq and fighters affiliated with the Naqshbandi order, under the auspices of Douri, try to overthrow the current government.