Confusion over report of Iraqi fugitive's capture
Defense minister denies Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is in custody
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi government seemed in some confusion Sunday about whether one of Saddam Hussein's former top lieutenants was in custody.
Hours after the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, deputy commander of armed forces under Saddam, had been captured near Tikrit by Iraqi national guard and U.S. troops, Iraq's defense minister called the report "baseless."
A senior Pentagon official also expressed doubt about the report.
Al-Douri was once vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council, which controlled the Baath Party in Iraq. He is No. 6 on the U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials. He is the highest-level Iraqi official not yet captured and the king of clubs on the U.S. military's card deck listing former Saddam regime officials.
In November, the U.S. military announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. The military said al-Douri was organizing many attacks by insurgents.
Late last year, a man identified as al-Douri was reported captured, but he turned out to be someone with a similar name. An Iraqi official said Iraq was conducting a blood test on the man in custody.
"We don't have any information regarding this issue, and what was reported of a statement from the Defense Ministry is baseless," Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan told reporters in Beirut, Lebanon.
"What has happened is that there was a search operation carried out by the national guard forces and multinational troops, and some terrorist targets were hit during this operation," al-Shalaan said.
"There were some rumors that on this site there was al-Douri or someone who looks like al-Douri. We have no information at all concerning this."
In Kuwait, Iraqi Minister of State Kasim Daoud told reporters that al-Douri and 150 other people -- not all of them Iraqi nationals -- were arrested in the Tikrit operation.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led multinational forces said al-Douri was not in their custody and that officials had not been able to verify word of his capture.
Four of al-Douri's nephews were captured in January in Samarra. U.S. Central Command said they were suspected of providing him with transportation and hiding places.
Al-Douri was reportedly sick, and Iraqi sources told CNN last year he had been undergoing blood transfusions every six months for leukemia.
At one point, the U.S. military detained some of his family members and the son of his doctor in an attempt to pressure him to surrender.
Al-Douri was a prominent figure in Saddam's Iraq, recognized by his red hair, red mustache and large glasses. A longtime Baath Party leader, he was instrumental in helping Saddam come to power during a coup in 1968.
U.S. officials say he was involved in Saddam's decision to use chemical weapons against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988. The attack killed at least 5,000 people and left 10,000 severely injured -- many blinded, maimed or disfigured.
Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan has said al-Douri could be tried in absentia.
Other developmentsTwo U.S. soldiers died and 16 were wounded Sunday in a mortar attack around 6 p.m. on a logistics support area near Balad, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The soldiers were all members of the 13th Corps Support Command. Daoud announced Sunday that Saddam would stand trial in Iraq before elections scheduled for January. A series of weekend incidents killed at least 40 people. (Full story)A car bomb exploded near a U.S. patrol about 30 miles north of Baghdad on Sunday, injuring one soldier and two Iraqis, a U.S. military official said. Afterward, a U.S. military quick-reaction force captured three suspects near Dujayal, the site of the explosion, and held them for questioning.