Izzat Ibrahim, a fugitive confidant of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein who helped spearhead a deadly insurgency against U.S. troops and later formed an alliance with Islamic State militants, was shot dead Friday by security forces, Iraqi officials said.
Ibrahim, a former vice president known for his trademark ginger mustache and black beret, was dubbed the king of clubs in the deck of playing cards that the Pentagon issued to identify the most-wanted members of Hussein's government.
The former general was the highest-ranking Iraqi official to avoid capture after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Hussein in 2003. He was the last surviving member of the late Hussein's inner circle.
Pro-government militiamen killed Ibrahim and nine bodyguards as they traveled in a convoy north of the city of Tikrit, near the Hamrin mountain range, Iraqi Gen. Haider Basri told state television.
On his official Facebook page, Raed Jabouri, the governor of Salahuddin province, posted a photograph of what he said was Ibrahim's body. Hadi Ameri, head of the Badr Brigades, a pro-government Shiite Muslim militia, told local reporters that DNA analysis was underway to confirm the dead man's identity.
Ibrahim has been reported captured or killed several times. Some social media postings said to be from his supporters denied the latest reports of his demise.
Elsewhere in Iraq on Friday, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded outside the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate compound in the northern city of Irbil, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militants' websites.
The State Department said no U.S. personnel were killed in the afternoon blast in the bustling capital of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Local news reports indicated that at least three civilians were killed in the explosion, which occurred in a district that is home to many cafes, restaurants and hotels.
In Baghdad, Iraq's capital, a pair of car bombings also linked to Islamic State killed at least 27 people, news agencies reported. The Sunni Muslim militant group has regularly targeted Shiite neighborhoods and gatherings in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Also on Friday, fierce fighting was reported as pro-government forces held off Islamic State militants trying to overrun the western city of Ramadi and the strategic Baiji oil refinery, north of Baghdad. The dual campaigns have dramatized Islamic State's continued strength in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq, despite the group's recent loss of Tikrit.
Pro-government forces recaptured Tikrit this month; the city had been in militant hands since June.
A series of recent airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition backing the Iraqi government has pummeled Islamic State positions near Ramadi and Baiji.
The Tikrit area was the hometown of Ibrahim and his longtime colleague and mentor, Hussein. Both came from humble tribal backgrounds and became loyalists of the Baath Party, which is now banned. Many of Hussein's closest aides were from Tikrit.
The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government that came to power after the U.S.-led invasion convicted Hussein of crimes against humanity and hanged him in 2006. Many members of Iraq's Sunni minority viewed the execution of Hussein, a Sunni, as a sectarian lynching. A Sunni-Shiite civil war convulsed the nation for years after the invasion, and sectarian tension still divides Iraq.
It had long been rumored that Ibrahim, said to be in his early 70s, was holed up in the northern city of Mosul, a former Baath Party stronghold. Islamic State, which declared Mosul its capital, controls territory across Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Ibrahim has long been a mysterious figure. Once Hussein was toppled, Ibrahim reportedly ran loyalist Baath Party cells that led the Sunni Muslim insurgency against the U.S. occupation.
Ibrahim was said to be a pivotal interlocutor between pro-Hussein nationalists and the Sunni Islamist militants. The two groups with greatly differing political agendas forged an alliance against the U.S. occupation and the Shiite-dominated government that succeeded Hussein. Ibrahim's followers included former military officers and intelligence personnel.
Last year, Ibrahim was reported to have formed an alliance with Islamic State militants who captured much of the Iraqi Sunni heartland in June. He was said to have headed a group of pro-Hussein militants known as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order. The group is reported to have worked in tandem with Islamic State militants, but the alliance broke down.
Ibrahim and his followers brought valuable military and intelligence expertise to their collaboration with various Sunni extremist groups, analysts said.
Times staff writer McDonnell reported from Beirut and special correspondent Bulos from Amman, Jordan.