Saddam Hussein’s faithful friend, the King of Clubs, might be the key to saving Iraq

Michael Knights writes: Over the weekend, in what the Telegraph described as “a potential sign of the fraying of the Sunni insurgent alliance that has overrun vast stretches of territory north of Baghdad in less than two weeks,” a deadly firefight broke out west of Kirkuk, Iraq, between members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and a rival insurgent group called Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandi, or the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi. JRTN now represents the main obstacle to ISIS’s creation of an Islamic caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria, and is most likely being led by Saddam Hussein’s old friend Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the King of Clubs from the infamous deck of cards of most-wanted Iraqis — that is, if he’s not dead.

Born in 1942, Douri came from Dawr, a town of 35,000 people on the east bank of the Tigris and just 20 miles from Hussein’s birthplace (and burial place) of Al-Awja. Growing up poor, Douri worked for an ice-seller as a boy but quickly turned to violent revolutionary politics in his late teenage years. He worked alongside Hussein, who, being a few years older, was Douri’s mentor. They both served in the intelligence and peasantry offices of the Baath Party and later spent time in jail together after the Baath’s brief seizure of power in 1963. Douri remained as Hussein’s eyes and ears in Iraq while Hussein was abroad for the five years preceding the Baathist return to power in 1968.

Back in power, Douri and Hussein picked up where they left off — as inseparable partners. Douri was rewarded for his loyalty by inheriting Hussein’s prior position, the vice presidency and deputy chairmanship of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council. Until Hussein’s capture in 2003, Douri served as his most trusted deputy, always careful not to threaten Hussein’s position. The Douris consistently backed Hussein, and the two families even merged for a time. In a show of loyalty, Douri consented to marry his daughter to Hussein’s eldest son, the infamous sadist Uday. As Iraqi tribal expert Amatzia Baram told me years ago, Douri’s sway with Hussein was so substantial that he could even levy a condition — that the union would not be consummated — and later made a successful petition that his daughter be permitted to divorce Hussein’s homicidal offspring.

But aside from keeping Hussein happy and in charge, Douri also had a personal project, a patronage network that he jealously guarded for himself. The name of that network was the Men of the Naqshbandi. [Continue reading…]

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