Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Where Is Izzat al-Duri?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 8 April 2012 13:34

The sensational video of Izzat al-Duri released yesterday on the occasion of the 65 year anniversary of the Baath party isn’t getting quite the airplay it deserves. Not that the content of the hour-long speech in itself is particularly interesting, but the sheer fact that, despite rumours of ill health, the most senior Baath leader to survive the Iraq War  is confirmed to be alive and well is an important development. This is, after all, the person seen as the rightful successor to Saddam Hussein by the remaining Baath party faithful. Additionally, towards the end of the speech, Duri reveals some interesting perspectives on the broader regional situation that provide clues as to this possible whereabouts, which for a long time has been something of a riddle.

First of all: It looks real. Duri has a characteristic appearance and does not easily lend himself to impersonation. Even though the Baath party specialized in this kind of thing, it seems unlikely that this video is the work of a double.

Above, screenshot of Duri in video released yesterday; below, archive photo

The Iraq-related part of the speech takes up most bandwidth and is the least interesting one. It is a predictable outpouring of anger concerning supposed Iranian influences penetrating everywhere in Iraq and spreading across the Arab world. Not only that, Duri repeatedly describes this as a conspiracy of Persians/Safavids, Americans and Israeli Zionists. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Duri – at 70 and despite conflicting stories about his health situation – had the stamina to gesticulate his way through an hour of these grand theories.

The more interesting and newsworthy parts of the Duri speech are towards the very end. Here, he comments on broader regional developments, including the situation in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Regarding Libya, Duri clearly sees developments there as a deplorable parallel to what took place in Iraq in terms of “foreign intervention”. With respect to Syria, there is praise for the “legitimate” and “peaceful uprising” of the Syrian people, though there seems to be concern that foreign (Western) intervention can ensue if things get out of hand. Most remarkably, though, there is much praise for the Saudi king with reference to his efforts to help solve the situation in Yemen.

Beyond verifying the relative recency of the video, these remarks help explain the worldview of Duri, which seems to be one in which Iranian and Western interventions in the Arab world must be fought at any cost. Unsurprisingly, given his own religious background, there is more positive praise for the ulama in the Arab world than one would perhaps expect from a Baathist leader, even after a decade of state-led “Islamism” in Iraq in the 1990s.

Above all, though, Duri’s remarks on the regional situation may help address that lingering question of where he currently lives. For a long time, it was thought he was in Syria, but the praise for the Syrian uprising suggests he is not there anymore. That leaves the Gulf states as his most likely current location. Given the criticism of the Libya intervention, Qatar can probably be ruled out. On the other hand, the praise for the Saudi king seems to be a credible indicator that he might be there already or is applying for a permanent residence permit.

For many years after 2003, the Iraqi Baathist presence in Syria served as something of an anomaly for those seeing grand sectarian schemes and a Shiite axis projecting through the region from Iran via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. The realignment of Duri and the Iraqi Baath towards the conservative Gulf monarchies makes both themselves and the Syrian regime – now deprived of another Sunni-secular card –  look a little more sectarian than before. The more sectarian Shiite media outlets in Iraq will lose no time in seizing on this; as ever, though, the question is whether the majority of Iraqis will allow hyperbole articulated from outside the country to aggravate their own political problems.

21 Responses to “Where Is Izzat al-Duri?”

  1. Hassan said

    Saw the whole thing and I must say this man is a complete and utter lunatic. The idea that a Persian/Safavid conspiracy is attempting to propagate from Iraq to the rest of the world is completely ludicrous. I don’t even think this crazy man can write an hour long lecture, it’s been written for him by some sectarian arab third party that wishes to de-legitimize the “Persian/Safavid” government (basically calling all Iraqi Shia either Persian or Safavid) and spark a sectarian response. I could not have been more enraged when I first saw this, then I realized a raving sociopath is not worth my time and nor are his insane words.

  2. Ali W said

    Reidar, did you find it odd that he did not mention Saddam? He also said that the Baath party should not be held responsible for the errors of others, which I think could be a reference him.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, I guess Duri is thinking he has his own leadership ambitions to take care of now! He is somewhat old though. It is interesting that the younger ones in the Baath, if they even exist in significant numbers, seem happy to remain in the background – anonymously like the people surrounding Duri in this video.

  4. Santana said

    Nice piece by Allawi in the Washington Times-

  5. Hassan said

    Reidar, I find it nearly comical how they are kept anonymous especially when the ‘address’ is begun with the camera aimed at one of these stomachs as he introduces Izzat. I for one think it serves to further undermine the whole thing as it is really denouncing to have men in uniform stand for an hour behind merely to show that you have some sort of real ‘support’.

    Santana, yes it is ‘nice’ if you nothing about current Iraqi politics and are willing to believe skewed conclusions which are built on little to not factual evidence. Also how can one really take Allawi seriously when he writes an article pretty much pleading for renewed American intervention when everyone in Iraq is pleased to be finally partially free from it?

  6. observer said

    you indicate in the closed thread pervious to this one that Maliki gets credit for building state structures. Please point out to me how getting independent committees under the PM (i.e. the central bank, the INDEPENDENT election commission, taking charge of all security ministries, etc.) is good for the state structure. Please also explain to my simple mind how selective application of the law is good (i.e. giving Muqtada sader, and Meshaan jibouri, -not to mention sudani, and others, a “get out of jail free card”s).

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, not structures in the plural, structure in the singular. Meaning Maliki wisely resist ideas like federalism south of Kurdistan and the strategic policy council. Though in the former case he does it illegally, which, as I have said before, is not good and he ought to change his tactics, focusing on Sunni rejection of federalism instead, which exists. Regarding the strategic council, Maliki has got the constitution on his side.

    I’ll have another look at the Allawi oped, meanwhile, comments on Duri and neo-Baathism more broadly are eagerly solicited!

  8. Observer said

    The stratigic council is dead so please stop using that as evidence of malikis hue to protect the constitution. You now have ample evidence that maliki and company care very little for the constitution and only use it as a “qa pmees Othman”. It is constitutional when it suits them or ignore what the Constitution is explicit in protecting when it comes to accumulating power. Further, your evaluation of maliki and company should not be about tactic but about principal beliefs and stances.

    On izzat and Baath. That is another red herring. Baath is dead and it aint coming back. Izzat as inconsequential to iraq as saddam is. He can blather on all he wants but in the end Baath is dead and if they want to come back as a force, then their first step would be to apologize to all iraqis for what they did and take on the responsibility that implies. I think you agree that an apolog is not going to be forthcoming any time soon.

  9. Mohammed said


    In my conversations with common folk, I am not sure that there is much of a differentiation of “Baath” and anti-shiite from a strategic point of view. Just looking at Maliki’s statements for the last 4 years, he has always grouped the two as partners-in-crime (remember the blasts against the govt building that he attributed to syrian-backed baathists and AQ?).

    Looking at Izzat’s (aka Abu Thalaj aka former Ice Salesman) statements in praise of Saudi King, they will be interpreted as an even more formal alignment with the anti-shiite sphere of the GCC. Personally, I have always been baffled at what it really means to be a baathist anyways? Besides being secular, and advocating arab nationalism and a strong central govt, what else is there? Afterall the syrian and iraq baath hated one another, with the syrian baath aligned with persian islamist iran (not exactly what michel aflaq had in mind).

    But in the grand scheme of things, as the AL summit recently demonstrated, regional politics is really about GCC vs Iran, and this is interpreted by Iraqi shiites as concerted effort to restore sunni domination of Iraq (e.g. qatar’s explicit statements in support of sunnis in iraq)…you can call them baathists/AQ/smurfs/martians…it will all be spun as the same thing. But Duri himself is quite irrelevant.


  10. Santana said

    Hassan- you wrote-
    “how can one really take Allawi seriously when he writes an article pretty much pleading for renewed American intervention when everyone in Iraq is pleased to be finally partially free from it?”

    Speak for yourself- Allawi is not asking for troops to come back in – he is asking the U.S to use whatever political leverage they have left to pressure Maliki to live up to the Erbil agreement and to stop his control of the Judicial system, mass arrests , torture, control of central bank …….etc….. you have to understand that with the USG and Iran backing Maliki (for totally different reasons) then all that Iraqiya and the Kurds can do is to approach one of those two that are most likely to help whichis the U.S because Iran sure as hell isn’t.
    The U.S is slowly starting to see that their current “it’s an election year-hands-off strategy and let’s let the Iraqis handle things themselves” policy is gonna come back to kick them in the rear and at the worst possible time (later this year as the U.S Elections get more heated up and right when Obama desperatly wants Iraq on it’s best behaviour…….which it will NOT be cuz things are moving towards several mini-civil wars i the North, West and Central Iraq i……if someone doesn’t do something about this Iranian- loving – Sectarian Dictator- scumbag Maliki……..ofcourse with all due respect.

  11. Mohammed said


    Tell us what you really think! LOL…At least I know where you stand.

    My friend, look, can you please explain to me what aspects of Arbil agreement will be the recipe for success.

    And please don’t respond with the magical theme of “partnership.” As a physician and engineer, I need things dumbed down for me to understand. Give me specifics! Do you agree with Observer that “strategic policy council” is “dead”? What other aspects are left? Defense and Interior ministers? OK, fair enough. RV has suggested a path forward on those two positions, what are you thoughts about RV’s idea?

    Regarding the rest of Arbil, I really haven’t the foggiest idea about what else is there of real substance. Since I have pretty much given up hope that they will ever publish it, can you speculate as to WHY they won’t publish it? The issues with respect to Kirkuk, disputed territories etc, are explosive issues and now is not the time to settle those. I very much doubt that voters who voted for Iraqiya want a referendum on Kirkuk right now…

    FInally, my biggest concern right now is that the judiciary is completely falling by the wayside and Maliki has too much control over it. To me that is the key. How would Arbil adress that? If we don’t have a fair judiciary, we are screwed.

    Once in a while, the parliament is showing some strength and confronting Maliki on things like central bank, human rights (with passage of new independent human right committee). Can those efforts not be spruced up?


  12. faisalkadri said

    “my biggest concern right now is that the judiciary is completely falling by the wayside and Maliki has too much control over it.”
    For once I agree with you with tears in my eyes.. What do you suggest or expect? Maliki is lining up the election committee and all election oversight “volunteers” with his cronies. There is a new organization that targets women in universities and prepares them for “volunteering” as election monitors, the organization is funded and administered by Maliki’s government.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    And, as Mohammed is saying, the Arbil agreement will not do anything to solve that very fundamental problem with the judiciary.

  14. faisalkadri said

    If I were advising Allawi I would advise against writing his op ed asking for US leverage with Maliki. Side shows are futile, the only process that matters is the elections, its transparency and credibility.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    In which case you are probably not thrilled to learn that two IHEC members including its head were arrested today.

  16. Santana said


    The two guys are being held at minimal security and it’s a joke…they are both shiites and therefore -under Maliki’s Iraq – immune to arrest… of them said they expect to be held for 48 hours max….it’s more of a show for public consumption and the whole thing is staged…just to show that Maliki is “an equal opportunity arrestor”…….if they were Sunnis they would be subjected to electrocution of their private parts and die of “kidney failure…..never to be seen again.

  17. Observer said

    So rv. Is there any more doubt that maliki and da3wa are hi jacking iraq. I recall threads in which you stated that you are not sympethetic to the “narrative” of dictatership in the making. Really, i am truly interested in finding out your opinion about how to save democracy in iraq.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Santana (and Observer, since you seem to take a different view of the IHEC arrests), I thought those arrested were Haydari (the Kurdish head of the commission) and Tamimi (affiliated to one of the INA parties I believe rather than to SLA). Haydari for sure has been in conflict with Maliki at times and I think possibly Tamimi too.

  19. observer said

    regardless of Santana’s and I postion on the IHEC arrests, please enlighten me on what your thinking (and by extension think tankers) about the concept of Da3wa and SLA slowly taking over the instruments of power. Thanks

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, I think Maliki will continue in that way as long as there is not a functioning, integrated cabinet. When Barzani and Allawi step down from demands such as the strategic policy council and instead focus on being effective in cabinet, there are greater chances that Maliki will treat them in a businesslike manner.

    As said before, I think a defence ministry deal is key – and, in addition to the cabinet bylaws, perhaps the only item on the long list of Iraqiya and Kurdish demands that is realistic.

  21. Observer said

    You are sounding just like muhammad. Blaming allawi and barazani for malikis and da3wa steps to holding on to all reigns of power is not proper thinking in my humble opinion.

    I am truly preplexed with your stance. You seem oblivious to the danger and giving maliki card blanche by believing that his steps are tactical and not stratigic.
    As i stated before in other threads…..

    Keep doing that and by the time you really are donvinced that these characters are out to take over and end democracy and create a theocracy, it will be too late for iraqis… But then again, it truly is not your problem, but ours to contend with.

    Allawi in krg shortly to meet barazani and giving you all more chances for blaming them for what maliki is doing and stopping maliki from creating a string iraq. Sigh

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