The King of Clubs Speaks
(A poster of most wanted insurgency leaders distributed in 2004 by the U.S. The photo in the top right is al-Douri. This poster was republished on the Sydney Morning Herald's web site on February 11, 2004 and was originally published by the AFP.)
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, aka the "King of Clubs," has issued a tape calling on Arab leaders to meet in Sudan - a longtime ally of Saddam's regime and one-time home to al Qaeda - in protest of the new Iraqi government. The tape also attempts to rally the various constituencies of the insurgency to "expel the representatives of collusion and treason, who have sold their religion, homeland and nation at the cheapest price." The BBC has a full translation here, but notes that the tape has not been "independently verified."
Al-Douri, one of Saddam's most trusted henchmen, has been reported dead on a number of occasions. Obviously, if the tape is authentic, then reports of his demise were premature. In fact, there have been numerous reports in recent months that he is alive.
What interests me most are reports of al-Douri's ties to Abu Musab al Zarqawi and al Qaeda. Dan Darling wrote an excellent review of al-Douri's ties to al Qaeda's Iraqi presence last year. An anonymous official told the Associated Press in October 2003 that two captured members of Ansar al Islam "said Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is helping to coordinate their attacks." FOX News reported in November 2003:
American commanders have speculated that they are facing attacks from Saddam supporters, religious extremists and foreign fighters. U.S. officials have said at least some of the attacks may have been orchestrated by Saddam's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who may have forged an alliance with the Kurdish religious extremist group Ansar al-Islam.
Of course, Ansar al-Islam was al Qaeda's affiliate in northeastern Iraq prior to the war and has been one of the major tributaries feeding the insurgency since the war's beginning. There are multiple pieces of evidence linking the former Iraqi regime to the group prior to the war. Even the 9-11 Commission admitted that there were "indications" that the former Iraqi regime and al Qaeda cooperated in bringing the group to life.
Back to al-Douri. In October 2005, the Jamestown Foundation cited a jihadist forum that was especially candid in explaining al-Douri's prominent role in leading Baathist groups under the "cloak" of Salafist insurgent groups:
...on the jihadi forum al-Farouq (www.al-farouq.com), a posting dated October 2 defined much of the Islamist opposition in Iraq, conversely, as "Ba'athism in the cloak of religion." The author, signing himself sarcastically "the Degenerate, Base Salafist," describes how the present Sunni religious violence dates back to the era of Saddam Hussein. He details, in what is a surprising essay to find on a jihadist forum (and subsequently removed), the innovation under Saddam's rule of the "Return to Faith Campaign" directed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former Vice President of Saddam's Revolutionary Council. The campaign aimed at fanning sectarian flames to secure the suppression of the Shi'a in the south following the 1991 uprising in the wake of the allied operation to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. The author of the posting explains the plethora of Islamist groups as fronts for the fallen regime's intelligence departments, shrewdly exchanging the Arab nationalist label for one more in tune with the times--Salafism. In addition, by associating actions with extremist takfirism (the doctrine of excommunicating non-jihadist Muslims) the escalation of violence against other Iraqis passes with less criticism.
In November 2005, John Pike told the LA Times, "I think that [Al Qaeda in Iraq leader] Abu Musab Zarqawi would have had a very hard time doing what he was doing without Ibrahim and his circle of influence." [Side Note: I debated Pike on MSNBC last year concerning the former Iraqi regime's ties to al Qaeda. Pike believes that this cooperation began only after the U.S.-led invasion. I think that is wrong for a lot of reasons, see above, but I digress.]
Al-Douri is a living, breathing connection between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda. Our forces fight al-Douri's handiwork in Iraq every day.