The news that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri has been killed is tantalizing to contemplate and—to anyone who closely followed the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath—easily dismissed. As a journalist in Baghdad from 2003 to 2007, I lost count of the number of times Saddam Hussein’s right-hand man was said to have been killed or captured during that period.
The rumors, including the occasional one that he had succumbed to leukemia, represented nothing more than mass wishful thinking: many people sincerely wished al-Douri dead. He had been responsible for uncountable deaths—of Iraqi Kurds and Shia, and of Iranians—during his rise to the highest echelons of the Ba’aht Party. His villainy was accurately represented by his position on the famous deck of cards of the Iraqis most wanted by the coalition: al-Douri was King of Clubs. (Saddam was, of course, the Ace of Spades.)
The last time I believed a report of al-Douri’s demise was in mid-2006. With no other way to verify the rumors, I took a long shot: through intermediaries, I sent out a list of questions meant for al-Douri. When I heard nothing back for weeks, I assumed he indeed was dead.
I can still remember the gasps of dismay among my Iraqi colleagues when a messenger finally arrived, from Syria, with al-Douri’s answers to my questions. It was something of a scoop, his first interview with the Western media. But none of us felt any sense of achievement. Our office manager, a man of dark humor, tried to see the bright side of things by pointing out that the bounty on al-Douri’s head (at most recent count, it was $10 million) was still up for grabs.
Is the King of Clubs really dead this time? The governor of Salahuddin province says Iraqi soldiers and Shia militia killed him near Tikrit last Friday (April 10). If that’s true, many Iraqis—my former colleagues among them—will have reason to cheer.
But I’m inclined to wait for a formal death announcement, whether from the remnants of the Ba’ath party, which he led after Saddam’s capture, or from ISIL, with which he made an on-again, off-again alliance.