Saddam Hussein's right-hand man, Ezzat al-Douri, was killed in Iraq

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri Iraq InsurgentReuters Photographer/REUTERSEzzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former aide to late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and a leader of Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, may have been killed by Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militias fighting the insurgents.

Douri was killed in a military operation, Raed al-Jubouri, the governor of Salahuddin province, told Reuters. The pan-Arab television network al-Arabiya showed photos of a dead man who looked like al-Douri.

However, Khdhayer Almurshidy, a spokesman for Iraq’s former Baath party, said in comments to Iraq’s al-Hadathtelevision that the reports were false. Al-Douri was a senior member of the party.

Al-Jubouri told Reuters that “a group of security forces went and surrounded the area and those terrorists were killed. Three of them were suicide bombers and blew themselves up. Amongst the bodies was Douri’s.”

He said the operation was carried out in the Hamrin area near al Alam in Salahuddin province, but that Iraqi forces did not know al-Douri was there beforehand.

Jubouri also spoke to al-Arabiya, where he described the operation as a major victory. He said al-Douri “is considered a mastermind for this terrorist group,” referring to Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda which has taken swathes of Syria and Iraq.

“For sure, this will have an impact on them … There will be a break among them,” he said.

Izzat Ibrahim al-DouriREUTERSEzzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who had been the most senior aide to Saddam Hussein still on the run in Iraq, has been captured in the town of Tikrit, Iraq’s defence ministry said on September 5, 2004.

Baghdad has mounted an offensive against Islamic State and former Baathists once loyal to Saddam Hussein to retake territory in Iraq’s Sunni heartland captured by jihadists last summer. Al-Douri was believed to be a key figure in that insurgency.

While Baghdad has announced al-Douri’s death several times before, this time photos were circulating showing a man with similar features and red hair like al-Douri’s. Al-Jubouri told Reuters that DNA from the body will be tested and results will be released to confirm it is him “very soon”.

Ahmed al-Kraim, the head of Salahuddin provincial council, said news of al-Douri’s death was not confirmed and intelligence officers who tracked his movements did not believe he was the man in the photographs.

Khaled Jassam, a member of the security committee in Salahuddin provincial council, said the committee were 70 per cent sure al-Douri had been killed but were awaiting medical tests.

Izzat Ibrahim al-DouriWikipediaEzzat Ibrahim al-Douri

After Saddam Hussein was toppled and before al Qaeda and later Islamic State rose to prominence, al-Douri led an insurgency against Baghdad’s Shi’ite-led government, organising and leading major attacks against symbols of the new rule.

Former Baathists in Iraq have also joined forces with Islamic State to fight Baghdad. Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim militant group, has seized a third of Syria and large areas of Iraq and this year proclaimed a caliphate across the two countries in the heart of the Middle East.

(Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut and Isabel Coles in Erbil; Writing by Oliver Holmes; editing by John Stonestreet, Larry King)

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This article originally appeared at Reuters. Copyright 2015. Follow Reuters on Twitter.

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