Fugitive Saddam deputy urges resistance in video

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 08, 2012 7:38 AM
Fugitive Saddam deputy urges resistance in video

By Suadad al-Salhy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The most senior member of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's entourage still at large has criticized the present government and urged former Iraqi Baathists to reorganize their resistance to it, according to a video broadcast on Baathist websites.

The video appeared to show Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the head of Saddam's Baath party and the highest-ranking member of his government still at liberty. Saddam, a Sunni, was toppled and his party banned after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The broadcast was not dated and Douri's identity could not be independently confirmed. Douri released a recording last year criticizing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for rounding up former Baath party members in Iraq.

"We have to restart immediately... to rebuild the revolutionary Baath party," he said in the video broadcast on the 65th anniversary of the formation of Iraq's Baath party.

The video showed a man closely resembling Douri sitting in a Saddam-era uniform in front of the old Iraqi flag, flanked by a group of bodyguards, just as he did when delivering speeches in the past.

After the invasion, Douri was ranked sixth on the U.S. military's list of 55 most wanted Iraqis and a $10 million reward was offered for his capture.

In the video, he criticized the present Shi'ite Iraqi government and the Arab governments that backed it and accused them of treason and conspiracy against Iraqi insurgents who fought against the U.S. military after the invasion. U.S. officials have accused him of organizing the insurgency.

"Nine years have passed since the invasion and occupation and these corrupt traitors have turned their backs on the heroic Iraqi resistance," Douri said.

He also warned Sunni Arab countries over what he called the "invasion of Safavid" - an apparent reference to Shi'ite Muslim Iran's growing influence over Iraq's government, in a region increasingly divided along a Sunni-Shi'ite faultline.

"We put it before your eyes and in your hands, the Safavid Persian enemy today stands at the doorstep," he said.

Baathists were banned from politics after the 2003 invasion, but the government says many former party members have organized into insurgent groups resisting the rise to power of the Shi'ite majority following the fall of Saddam.

Maliki ordered the arrest of hundreds of former Baathists last year just before the last American troops left the country, causing a crisis that threatened to unravel a fragile power-sharing deal among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish blocs.

Many Sunni Iraqis now fear Maliki is trying to consolidate his position by ousting their leaders from the power-sharing agreement, depriving the Sunni minority of a voice in government.

Douri was the deputy head of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council under Saddam, and took over the Baath Party leadership after Saddam was executed in 2006.

He has seldom been seen since 2003. In a statement in 2009, he called on Sunni insurgent groups to move into politics.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Tim Pearce)