Baath-linked TV channels release recording of Saddam deputy

Saddam Hussein's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri during a military parade in Mosul, northern Iraq on February 4, 2003 (AFP Photo/Awad Awad) (AFP/File)

Baghdad (AFP) - TV channels with links to Iraq's former ruling Baath party on Friday released an audio recording purportedly of the elusive Saddam Hussein deputy some officials said had been killed last month.

Several officials and leaders of Shiite militia groups had claimed to have killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri more than a month ago near the city of Tikrit.

Pictures had emerged of the body of a red-haired man bearing some resemblance to Saddam's feared deputy, who is the most senior former regime member believed to still be at large.

The authorities, however, have since been unable to positively identify the body as Duri's, arguing that they lacked DNA samples for comparison.

Friday's two-hour audio recording was released by the pro-Baath Al-Faris Al-Arabi and Al-Ezz channels. A shorter version was aired moments earlier by Al-Tagheer, a Jordan-based station believed to be close to the Baath but which denies any links.

Duri clearly refers in the recording to events that have happened since rumours of his alleged death surfaced on April 17, notably the deployment of Shiite paramilitary groups in the Nukhayb region earlier this month.

"Nukhayb represents a strategic position for Iran inside Iraq, and one of the aims of occupying Nukhayb is to open a front against Saudi Arabia, and connect with the fronts in Syria and Lebanon after the northern passages were closed," he said.

"I affirm in this gathering that what's happening today in our country is a direct and a comprehensive Persian occupation, under the obnoxious cover of sectarianism," he said.

An introduction to the full-length version of the recording says Duri was speaking at a recent meeting in Baghdad of the three main bodies of the Baath.

- Speicher condemnation -

Nicknamed "The Iceman" for his humble origins selling blocks of ice, he was the King of Clubs in the US Army's deck of cards of most-wanted Iraqis.

The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandiyah Order -- known by its Arabic initials JRTN and believed to be close to Duri -- took part in a sweeping militant offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last June.

The Islamic State group was the driving force, however, and Duri had to align with the group. But in Friday's recording he distanced himself from IS.

"We do cross paths... but what stops us from meeting is that even if we wanted to, they would not accept because they consider the Baath infidels," Duri said.

He used the word Daesh, an Arab acronym considered derogatory by IS, and claimed that the group was detaining a third of the Baath's command.

Duri went on to claim that the number of IS victims in Iraq "does not equal one percent of those killed by the militias".

"Except for what happened in Speicher, Speicher is a massacre that we denounce and condemn," he said, in reference to the slaughter of hundreds of mostly Shiite cadets captured in June last year from the Speicher base near Tikrit.

The Speicher massacre was a key moment in the mobilisation of Shiite fighters against IS. Burial sites were discovered recently, when government forces retook Tikrit and surrounding towns.