Iraqi Shi'ite militia says DNA tests prove Saddam aide dead

BAGHDAD (REUTERS) - An Iraqi Shi'ite militia group said on Sunday it had conducted DNA tests to prove the death of Ezzat al-Douri, former right-hand man to the late president Saddam Hussein, who after the 2003 US invasion was ranked by Washington as the sixth most-wanted Iraqi.

The Kataib Hizbollah group published a video on Saturday showing its fighters undressing the body of the man believed to be Douri, who was laid out on a metal trolley, and snipping off a piece of his flame-red beard.

"The final results prove that the body belongs to the criminal Ezzat al-Douri," the group's spokesman Jaafar Husseini said, noting that his DNA had been tested in the Iranian-backed Kataib Hizbollah's own special hospitals. He did not reveal details of where those hospitals were located.

"We are 100 percent certain," he added without elaborating.

Husseini said the body would be handed over to the government on Monday.

The governor of Iraq's Salahuddin province announced on Friday that Douri had been killed in an ambush in the Hamrin mountain area.

Baghdad has mistakenly announced Douri's death more than once before, but this time photographs are circulating of a man that bears some resemblance to him.

An exiled spokesman for Saddam's outlawed Baath Party, of which Douri later became head, denied he had been killed, although he offered no evidence the insurgent leader was still alive.

After the US-led invasion, Douri was ranked 'King of Clubs' in the US military's deck of playing cards representing the most wanted members of Saddam's administration, with a $10 million (S$13.5 million) reward offered for his capture. He was the highest-ranking Saddam loyalist still at large.

The prime minister's spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, confirmed the body had yet to be handed over to the government, adding he was not aware of any other laboratories other than the Ministry of Health's that could reliably test the remains.

"The testing needs to be conducted in official, trusted laboratories in the Ministry of Health's morgue," he said.

Kataib Hizbollah is one of a number of Shi'ite paramilitary groups that have rised to prominence fighting Islamic State militants who overran around one third of Iraq last summer after the army's northern divisions disintegrated.