BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi authorities claimed on Sunday to have captured Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (search), the most-wanted member of Saddam Hussein's (search) ousted dictatorship, but there was confusion over the report, as the Iraqi defense minister said word of his arrest was "baseless."
There have been incorrect reports of al-Douri's arrest in the past as U.S. and Iraqi forces hunt for the man who was once one of Saddam's most senior deputies. Sunday's report centered on a raid near al-Douri's hometown of Adwar, north of Baghdad (search).
Iraq's top information official told The Associated Press that al-Douri was seized while receiving medical treatment at a clinic near Adwar and that DNA tests were underway to confirm his identity. Al-Douri reportedly suffers from leukemia, and needs blood transfusions.
"We are sure he is Izzat Ibrahim," information official Ibrahim Janabi said. "He was arrested in a clinic in Makhoul near Tikrit and Adwar and 60 percent of the DNA test has finished."
A Defense Ministry spokesman, Saleh Sarhan, also told the U.S.-funded Alhurra television station that al-Douri had been captured.
Later, however, the Iraqi defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, said in an interview with Lebanon's Al Hayat-LBC television that reports that Izzat Ibrahim was captured were "baseless."
"We don't have any information on this subject or on the reports that allegedly came out from the defense ministry," he said.
"They are baseless. There are search operations by the national guards troops and multinational troops going on during which some terrorist positions were shelled. There were rumors that Izzat al-Douri or someone who resembles him were in that position but we don't have any information on Izzat specifically," he said.
U.S. Maj. Neal O'Brien of the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division (search) said he could not confirm the report and U.S.-led forces issued a statement saying he was not in U.S. custody. A senior U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Americans had no information to indicate that al-Douri had been arrested.
Iraqi Minister of State Qassim Dawoud also claimed that al-Douri was arrested and said 150 men defending him also were detained.
Meanwhile, a mortar barrage Sunday evening hit a U.S. base on the western edge of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding 16 others, one critically, Maj. Richard Spiegel of the Army's 13th Corps Support Command said.
The soldiers killed and wounded all belonged to the 13th Corps Support, which oversees distribution of fuel, food and water to U.S. forces. As of Friday, 976 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.
Al-Douri, once the vice chairman of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council, is the most prominent member of Saddam's inner circle who had not been captured or killed. U.S. military officials believe he played an organizing role in the 16-month-old insurgency.
He is No. 6 on the U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted figures from Saddam's regime — the king of clubs in the deck of cards — and U.S. forces have offered a $10 million bounty for his arrest. Forty-four of the people on the list already have been killed or captured.
Saddam was arrested on Dec. 13, hiding in a tiny underground bunker near Adwar.
Dawoud, the minister of state, said the trial of Saddam and other indicted officials from his regime would start "within a few weeks ... before the end of this year and before (Iraqi) elections," which are planned for January.
Saddam so far has had seven preliminary charges filed against him, including gassing thousands of Kurds in 1988, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the suppression of 1991 revolts by Kurds and Shiites, the murders of religious and political leaders and the mass displacement of Kurds in the 1980s. Eleven others have also been charged, including former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz; Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali;" and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.
Late last year, al-Douri's wife and daughter were detained. Earlier this year, U.S. forces conducted numerous raids in and around the northern city of Samarra searching for him.
During raids on Jan. 14 in Samarra, American forces arrested four of al-Douri's nephews who they suspected were helping al-Douri move to avoid capture.
Also Sunday, a militant group said it had captured four Jordanian truck drivers who it claimed were delivering goods for U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a tape obtained by Al-Jazeera TV.
The station said the tape was from a group calling itself the Shura Council of Fallujah Mujahedeen.
Militants have increasingly turned to kidnapping to force coalition forces and contractors from the country. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2002 and many have been executed.
In other developments:
— A car bomb exploded outside an air base used by U.S. forces near Dijiel, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, injuring one American soldier and two Iraqi civilians, the U.S. military said. Three suspects were detained near the site of the attack, said Army Sgt. Robert Powell.
— Police in northern Iraq found the body of an Egyptian kidnap victim with his hands bound and showing signs he had been badly beaten, said Iraqi National Guard Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin.