Saddam deputy praises jihadist 'heroes' in unverified message as Iraq's Sunnis pick speaker

Saddam deputy praises jihadist 'heroes' in unverified message as Iraq's Sunnis pick speaker

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse / The Associated Press
Saddam deputy praises jihadist heroes in unverified message as Iraqs Sunnis pick speaker

An image made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Raqa on June 30, 2014, allegedly shows a member of the IS militant group parading with a tank in a street in the northern rebel-held Syrian city of Raqa. AFP Photo

The wanted deputy of executed dictator Saddam Hussein praised the Islamic State jihadists who took over large swathes of the country last month as "heroes" in an unauthenticated audio message released on July 13.

The recording features a 15-minute speech in a raspy, quavering voice purported to be that of 72-year-old Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, who was Iraq's vice-president when US-led coalition forces invaded in 2003.

The voice in the recording, which AFP could not immediately confirm to be that of Duri, praised "some groups of (insurgents) Ansar al-Sunna and, in addition to these, the heroes and knights of Al-Qaeda
and the Islamic State."   

The Islamic State (IS) has been fighting in Syria and Iraq and on June 29 proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling both countries and headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who now calls himself Caliph Ibrahim.

Its fighters spearheaded a devastating military offensive by a coalition of Sunni militant groups that swept through large swathes of northern and western Iraq.

The onslaught was contained barely 50 miles from the capital Baghdad, exacerbating sectarian tensions nationwide and pushing Iraq to the brink of disintegration.

"We give them a special salute with pride, appreciation and love," said the man in the recording, introduced by another voice as the great commander of the Baath party.

"A dear salute to their leaders, which issued a general amnesty on every one who betrayed himself, betrayed God, betrayed his country but then atoned."       

He then went on to list several, sometimes obscure, Sunni militant groups believed to have rallied behind the Islamic State for last month's offensive.

Saddam's regime was secular and Izzat al-Duri is believed to be the leader of Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandi (JRTN), or Naqshbandiya order, a group of Sufi inspiration long seen as a rival to jihadist groups such as IS.  The latest such message attributed to Saddam's red-haired right-hand man, one of the former regime's most recognisable figures, was released in January 2013.

After the December 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, the wiry general nicknamed "Red Moustache" by some became the most senior figure, the King of Clubs, in the U.S. army's infamous deck of cards of wanted Iraqis.  He was best known to Iraqis as "The Iceman" for his humble origins selling blocks of ice on the streets of Mosul, Iraq's second city and now a key jihadist hub.

His name resurfaced in unverified recordings linked to the JRTN, which appears to have evolved from a network of influential Sunnis akin to freemasonry into a fully-fledged armed rebel group bent on undermining the Shiite majority's stranglehold on power.

Sunni blocs agree on speaker

The Iraqi parliament's Sunni blocs have agreed on a candidate for the post of parliament speaker, paving the way for the legislature to take the first formal step toward forming a new government.

The legislature is scheduled to meet Sunday amid pressure to quickly agree on new leadership that can hold the country together in the face of a Sunni militant offensive. Lawmakers failed to make any progress in parliament's first session on electing a new speaker, president and prime minister, and deadlock prompted the second session to be postponed until July 13.

Sunni lawmaker Mohammed al-Karbooli said in a statement late Saturday that Sunni parties decided on Salim al-Jubouri as their nominee for speaker. He said al-Jubouri promised not to support a third term for embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is under pressure to step aside.

Under an informal arrangement that took hold after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the speaker's chair goes to a Sunni, the presidency to a Kurd and the prime minister's post to a Shiite.

If parliament has a quorum July 13, it could vote on al-Jubouri's nomination. But in the past, Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs have agreed to all three posts ahead of time as a sort of package deal. It was unclear whether political leaders would insist on a similar arrangement this time around.

According to the constitution, parliament will have 30 days after choosing a new speaker to elect a president, who will have 15 days to ask the leader of the majority in the 328-seat legislature to form a government. Then a prime minister will be picked.