Iraqi forces hunt for Saddam's former deputy: Sources

BAGHDAD (REUTERS) - Iraqi special forces were hunting in a western province for the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle who has been on the run since the 2003 invasion, security sources said on Thursday.

Troops were searching for Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, head of Saddam's now-outlawed Baath party, in Dour, near the former ruler's hometown of Tikrit, 150km north of Baghdad.

"We have strong information that he is in Dour since last night, now we have closed the area, announced a curfew and are searching house by house," said one senior security officer involved in the operation.

Douri was long believed to be living outside Iraq, and he was last seen in January in a video message encouraging Sunni Muslim protesters to resist Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government.

Thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets each week since December to protest against Mr Maliki's government which they say has marginalised their minority sect and used tough anti-terrorism laws to unfairly target them.