However, it is noted that Islamic extremists tend to be date-conscious. According to the notice, al-Duri died shortly after 2.30am on 11 November, Armistice Day in Europe, Veteran’s Day in America. The loss of the resistance commander would be a minor victory for the American coalition, reminiscent of other victories in wars past, or … a shallow victory.
Of course, that suggests design. Ordinarily, people do not pick the month and date of their death. Was this announcement pre-planned? More to the point, was this notice heralding al-Duri’s death premature? This writer is a bit sceptical for a unique reason. For thirty-two months, coalition troops have been hunting al-Duri, and they placed a $10 million reward on his head.
Unfortunately, this search was relatively obscure, and al-Duri was not exactly a household word. For that reason, to serve a reminder, this nascent columnist wrote a recent comment piece titled “The most wanted man in Iraq, maybe”, fingering al-Duri as the resistance leader.
The article first appeared on this website on 30 October. Twelve days later, we are led to believe al-Duri is dead. I have never been a fan of coincidence.
How did all this come about? An email was sent to a Western news agency appraising them of al-Duri’s death shortly after 2.30am, Friday, 11 November, and described the man as “the leader of the resistance“. The email was sent by the Arab Socialist Baath party, Iraq Command.
Unhelpfully, the email did not provide a cause of death. Some were a bit surprised that the Iraqi Baath party still existed, and cynics immediately wanted to know the location of the party headquarters. And why no cause of death, causing conjecture where there should be none, like leukaemia, for instance.
The remainder of the news story was not exactly informative, causing scepticism. Arab television networks broadcast the story based on the email but had no confirmation.
Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Ibrahim, nephew and son-in-law of al-Duri, said he had heard the report on an Arab satellite television station but the family had received no death notification.
In Amman, Jordan, the secretary-general of the Jordanian Baath wing, Taysir al-Humsi, said he heard the report on television but had no other information. This was beginning to sound like a self-generating story from a fiction novelist. Perhaps, the next day would be more illuminating.
On 12 November reports came pouring in. The death of the former Iraqi vice-president caused shock and dismay in his hometown of al-Dur in the Salah al-Din province, 30km east of Tikrit.
Some of the residents speculated that the announcement was untrue, suggesting that it had been made to cover up the role al-Duri played in attacks on the US occupation.
Muzahim Khalid, a resident, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, “[We] don’t want the vice-president to be humiliated at the hands of occupation forces or the sectarian groups that hold the reins of power,” and he, along with others, hoped the news was true as this would prevent him from suffering.
Several sources close to al-Duri’s family stated that they had received no information about him other than from the media.
They also insisted they did not know where he had been hiding. They had not heard from him since the fall of Baghdad (April 2003), according to a family member identified only as Abu Abd Allah.
The family had made no efforts to prepare a burial at the city cemetery, and Salah al-Din’s deputy governor, Abd Allah Hussain, confirmed the province had no official notification or other communication concerning al-Duri’s fate. The official said he had contacted the Iraqi coordinator with the US military, and he, too, was completely ignorant of the matter.
Kurdish Media reported; “Iraq’s Baath party supporters confirmed on Saturday reports of the death of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who was seen as a key figure in the insurgency since Saddam’s fall in 2003. ‘On the soil of Arabic Iraq, the soul of Comrade Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri returned to God the Creator on Friday at dawn,’ said a statement on albasrah.net which publishes news from Baath supporters in Iraq.”
Confirming that al-Duri was the field commander for the heroic resistance, “there was no independent verification of his death,” in the words of Kurdish Media.
So, the former vice-president’s family and hometown was of no help, and the Kurds were less than forthcoming as well.
The thought occurred that a huge news organisation such as CBS might be able to shed some light on the subject. CBS reported on 12 November: “Saturday’s posting on a website run by former Baath party members appeared to confirm an email announcing the death of Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri that circulated Friday (italics is mine).” Good ole CBS. I read on, searching for the confirmation.
CBS continued by saying: “The statement about al-Duri’s death appeared Saturday on a website believed run by Salah al-Mukhtar, who was Saddam’s ambassador to India and head of the External Information Department (huh?). ‘In the pure land of Iraq, the soul of comrade Izzat Ibrahim returned to God on Friday at dawn,’ the website said. It described al-Duri as the field commander of the heroic resistance and was signed by the Baath party’s political media and publishing office.”
Experiencing a sinking feeling, I sought more on CBS’s version of “confirmation”. After casting doubt on whether al-Duri was still the leader of the resistance, in direct conflict with its source, the report stated: “In Amman, Jordan, lawyer Ahmad al-Najdawi, a member of the Jordanian branch of the Baath party, said he read the web statement and appeared to consider it accurate.”
Appeared to consider it accurate? Stated flatly, what CBS provided is not confirmation of al-Duri’s death.
The lack of information on the second day was bordering on proving a negative, a philosophical impossibility. All of this is acerbated by the Islamic proclivity to bury their dead quickly. Meanwhile, for sceptics, yearning for a writ of habeas corpus, there is no joy.
How difficult is it to provide a death notification to the family? How difficult is it for the Iraqi Baath party, if it exists, to provide the body of the deceased? All statements aside from various and sundry sources, this Machiavellian dance must come to an end. Confirmation is the body of al-Duri and his family’s sad funeral and their mourning. Nothing less.
On the third day, the intrigue persisted with two diverse developments that could be related. In the UK, The Scotsman newspaper reported that a later statement on a second website stated:
“We apologise from our brothers and sisters for publishing a statement announcing the death of brother Izzat al-Duri, may God extend his life.” From a confidential source in Amman, Jordan, I received this unconfirmed reply:
“Here’s another curious coincidence. Yesterday [the 12th] seven armed insurgent groups in Iraq announced their conditions for laying down their arms and joining in the political process instead. Izzat al-Duri was reputed to be the paymaster for many armed insurgent groups.”
Is it possible that the mysterious message found by The Scotsman on a second website was written by the resistance leadership, beseeching their troops not to abandon the cause?
A US Department of Defence news release supported the conjecture that al-Duri was involved in funding. “[The] money was looted from Iraq during the Saddam reign and now is being used to recruit and finance numerous insurgent attacks in Iraq,” it said. It also stated that coalition forces would continue to look for al-Duri. This got some play on NBC.
At the end of day three, nearly the entire mainstream media and officials in Washington, London, and Baghdad dropped the issue. Reportedly, the commander of the resistance in Iraq and possible paymaster is dead, allegedly, questionably, and few seem to be concerned about it. What a way to run a war.
On the fourth day, Monday, the website that posted the original message pulled it.
Incidentally, in my 30 October article that reminded readers of al-Duri’s presence and importance, I happened to bring up the name of Hani Abd al-Latif Tilfah al-Takriti, the king of hearts, the former director of the daunting Special Security Organisation (or Amn al Khas). In terms of succession of the now defunct Saddam regime, he was right behind al-Duri.
Indeed, David Newton, director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Iraq Service, asserted, “… it is more likely that Tilfah might be organising the attacks. He was much closer to Hussein [than al-Duri].” Not attesting to the accuracy of that statement, I am still wondering as to the whereabouts of Tilfah. And Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri.
Sandy Shanks is the author of two novels, The Bode Testament and Impeachment. An avid historian, he is also an experienced columnist, specialising in political/military issues.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.