BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -The highest ranking leader still at-large from Saddam Hussein”s regime has died, a Baathist Web site reported Saturday. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iraqi leaders to call for reconciliation ahead of upcoming elections.
The Web site run by former top Baath Party members said Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri died Friday, corroborating an earlier e-mail announcing the death that could not be independently confirmed.
"In the pure land of Iraq, the soul of comrade Izzat Ibrahim returned to God on Friday at dawn," the Web site statement said. It described al-Douri as the "field commander of the heroic resistance" and was signed by the Baath party”s "political media and publishing office."
The statement appeared Saturday on a Web site believed run by Salah al-Mukhtar, Iraq”s ambassador to India before the collapse of the regime in April 2003 and former head of the External Information Department in Iraq.
An e-mail sent Friday to a Western news agency in the name of the "Arab Socialist Baath Party — Iraq Command" said al-Douri died at 2:30 a.m. Friday but gave no indication of the cause. Al-Douri had been in poor health for years.
Annan arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for his first visit since the U.S. invasion and met with Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Deputy Prime Minister Rowsh Shaways, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, political and community leaders as well as U.N. staff.
Annan expressed his support for a national reconciliation conference, proposed by the Arab League, to be held in Cairo.
"Reconciliation is absolutely vital in Iraq," Annan said, adding that the U.N. supported all efforts to bring peace to the country.
Annan”s visit follows similar visits by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Thursday and Secretary of State Condoleezza on Friday. Both Rice and Straw said they wanted to encourage participation in parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 15.
Haitham al-Husseini, a spokesman for the predominantly Shiite party Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said Rice insisted that all groups participate in the upcoming election and to prepare for a national reconciliation conference.
Also Saturday, a car bomb exploded outside a public market in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of New Baghdad, killing eight and injuring 21. The explosion caused a large fire in the market that destroyed dozens of stalls.
The leaders of Iraq”s predominantly Sunni insurgency have called for a boycott of the election.
But a Sunni Muslim politician who claims to have contacts with insurgent groups said Saturday some of its members will be running next month”s elections and gave their demands and conditions to start peace talks with U.S. forces.
Ayham al-Samarie refused to say how many insurgents groups were planning to have candidates. He did not give further details and insurgent groups in the past have denied he represents them.
"The resistance should have an active role to help Iraq get out of its crisis," al-Samarie, a former electricity minister, told The Associated Press.
Minutes before al-Samarie spoke, a statement was distributed in his house that allegedly included the resistance”s conditions to start peace talks.
The conditions included an immediate end to all military operations, release of all detainees, the withdrawal of foreign troops from cities and setting a timetable for the full withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.
U.S. officials have patently rejected such conditions in the past.
In Baghdad late Friday, gunmen fired on the compound of the Embassy of Oman, killing two people and wounding two others — the second fatal shooting involving employees of Arab embassies in Baghdad this week. One of the dead was a policeman and the other was an embassy employee, said police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
On Wednesday, a driver for the Sudanese Embassy was shot to death in the same part of the capital, and last month two employees of the Moroccan Embassy were abducted on a highway in western Iraq.
Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for abducting the Moroccans, as well as for the July kidnap-slaying of three Arab diplomats — two Algerians and one Egyptian — in Baghdad.
The terror organization has warned governments, especially those of Arab and Islamic countries, to break off ties to the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, Razgar Ali, the head of the Kirkuk provincial council, said a brother of parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani was arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces for leading a terrorist cell.
Hatam Mahdi al-Hassani initially was reported kidnapped along with two others. Another brother, Nashat al-Hassani, denied Hatam was involved with terrorists.
"We are a religious family and we have no relations with insurgents. We demand his immediate release, if he is under police custody," Nashat al-Hassani said. The family is Sunni.