It looked like an odd coincidence and therefore aroused suspicion.
Friday, November 11, the very day that US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice visited Mosul, the Iraqi Baath party leadership issued a notice announcing the death of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, 63, former deputy of Saddam Hussein.
Rice was in Mosul for talks with Sunni tribal leaders and militia chiefs associated with the Americans who are building a new Sunni militia called Desert Protectors, which is unassociated with the Iraqi army.
A-Douri was the most powerful member of the former regime, second only to Saddam. He was deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces and held key positions on bodies responsible for the Kurdish massacre in Halabja and the suppression of the Shiite uprising in 1991.
Five top Saddam officials have been captured. Al-Douri, number six on the 55-most wanted US list, managed to evade the American net.
Two days after the death notice, on Nov. 13, the US military showed its extreme skepticism by re-running their offer of a $10m reward for information leading to the capture of this key aide of the deposed ruler “or his gravesite.”
Doubts were also cast by some Baaathist websites.
One even charged that the official communique was a forgery, fabricated by the occupation forces and their puppets to sow uncertainty and lower morale in the resistance movement.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-terror sources are now able clear up the mystery.
They have established after careful investigation that al-Douri did actually die Thursday morning, Nov. 10, the day before the death notice was published. His funeral was held that same afternoon in a graveyard on the northern fringes of Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad. It was attended by several dozen mourners, including members of his family, a clutch of Sunni guerrilla chiefs and their bodyguards.
The former deputy president was laid to rest with military honors in an unmarked grave to prevent its discovery by the Americans and Baghdad government. Speakers paid tribute to the dead man and a squad of bodyguards fired a three-gun salute.
Among the family pallbearers was a member of the al-Douri clan called Abdel QaderTalb, who was there and then anointed al-Douri’s successor as commander-in-chief of Sunni guerrilla fighter forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.
After the funeral, the insurgent chiefs went up to Talb and with ritual embraces and kisses gave the new commander ceremonial oaths of loyalty and obedience.
This episode demonstrates the difficulties confronting American and Iraqi government officials alike in penetrating the ranks of Iraq’s insurgents and al Qaeda.
The funeral and oaths of allegiance took place four days after American sources publicly voiced doubts about al Douri’s announced death. A rare chance was accordingly missed to lay hands on the most important chiefs of the Baathist insurgency since the capture of Saddam Hussein.