Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP) - Iraq is to test the body of a man killed on Friday by pro-government forces to determine if it is that of Saddam Hussein's long-fugitive deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri.
Duri was vice president at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion.
Nicknamed "The Iceman" for his humble origins selling blocks of ice, he was the King of Clubs in the US deck of cards depicting most-wanted Iraqis.
Killing him would be a significant victory for Baghdad, but Duri has previously been reported dead only to resurface in audio and video messages.
It is "95 percent (certain) that the body which we killed today belongs to Izzat al-Duri," army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said.
"I saw the body" and it appears to be Duri, Zaidi said, adding that it would be taken to Baghdad for testing.
Salaheddin province Governor Raad al-Juburi said fighting in the province's Hamreen mountains area "killed 12 terrorists, among them Izzat al-Duri", but that testing was needed to provide confirmation.
Ahmed al-Krayim, head of the Salaheddin provincial council, confirmed that a body resembling Duri had been recovered in the Hamreen area.
Pictures circulated online showed the body of a man who bears some resemblance to Duri, but with a bushy red-dyed beard instead of the trimmed moustache he sported while in office.
Duri was already in poor health, suffering from leukaemia when US-led forces invaded Iraq.
Zaidi said the man suspected of being Duri was killed during 25 minutes of clashes with a joint force including pro-government paramilitaries in Hamreen, terming it "a great victory".
- Bodyguards, cash -
Three vehicles were destroyed in the fighting, while light and medium weapons, Iraqi currency worth thousands of dollars and communications devices were seized, he said.
Omar Abdullah al-Jbara, a leader in the volunteer forces from the nearby Al-Alam area, said they had received information that a group of 15 people had managed to sneak out of the city of Tikrit around the time it was retaken from jihadists earlier this month.
They searched unsuccessfully but received a tip on Friday from a person who had seen the group, after which volunteer fighters and police mobilised and clashed with them between Al-Alam and Hamreen, killing 12.
The leader of the group -- whom Jbara said resembled Duri and had the same blue tattoo on his right wrist and gold teeth -- was guarded by four men, and they were the last to be killed.
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.
But little has been heard from JRTN and other groups in the months since, with the Islamic State group, which led the drive, dominating conquered territory.
Senior members of Saddam's Baath party, to which Duri belonged, have also reportedly played a major role in IS itself.
Iraqi security forces performed dismally in the early days of the IS June 2014 offensive, but with backing from Shiite paramilitaries, US-led air strikes and Iran, have made major gains against IS in recent months.
Duri's home town of Dawr was retaken in March as part of an operation that eventually saw pro-government forces recapture Tikrit, Saddam's home town.