BEIRUT

Middle East

Fugitive Saddam-era VP backs Iraq demos in video

Iraqi Sunni Muslims wave national flags and chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad,January 4, 2013. The protesters were demanding the release of Sunni detainees in government prisons and called for major reforms against corruption in the government. REUTERS

BAGHDAD: Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam Hussein's vice president and the highest-ranking member of his regime still on the run, has backed ongoing rallies in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq in an online video.

The 53-minute video, posted on YouTube on Friday, shows Duri reading a prepared statement behind a desk with a small Saddam-era flag atop it, and appears to be his first video message since April 2012.

The authenticity and date of the clip could not be verified.

In it, the 70-year-old voiced support for protests being held in mostly-Sunni Arab areas in western and northern Iraq that have been airing a multitude of grievances with the Shiite-led government, though primarily criticising the alleged wrongful arrest of members of their minority community.

"Every city and region, all the Iraqi people, and every national and Islamic power is with you, and supports you in achieving your demands to overthrow the Persian Safavid alliance," Duri said.

He was making a pejorative reference to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, implying that it was under the domination of formerly Safavid-ruled neighbouring Iran.

Duri, who was the king of clubs in a US deck of cards showing the most-wanted members of Saddam's regime, said his Saddam-era group was "studying the firm and fair punishment of all who stand and support the Safavid project."

The Baath party, the ruling party in Saddam's Iraq, said Duri had died in 2005, but audio messages attributed to him were broadcast in 2006, 2008 and 2010, in addition to the April 2012 video.

Up to $1 million is offered for information leading to Duri's arrest or conviction, according to the website of the Rewards for Justice programme, which is administered by the US State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

The protests in Iraq began on December 23, and were sparked by the arrest of at least nine guards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi, a Sunni Arab and a leading member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which is part of Maliki's unity government but frequently criticises him in public.

 

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