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Purported Saddam aide: Iraq’s invasion helped Iran

CAIRO (AP) – The highest-ranking member of Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime purportedly said the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Baghdad has ultimately served to make Iraq beholden to Iran.

In an online interview, a man claiming to be fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri called the invasion a “horrible crime in America’s history” and said it was part of an imperialist plan engineered by the U.S., Israel and Iran.

“The U.S. administration provided the cover for Iran and its agents for nine years to destroy Iraq and kill its people,” he purportedly said in the interview, published this week in Egypt’s online Al-Ahram newspaper. “Then it handed over Iraq entirely to Iran through (Iran’s) agents in the political process.”

Iran’s growing influence in Baghdad since the U.S. military left last year has raised widespread doubts over just how independent Iraq and its majority Shiite Muslim population can remain from its eastern neighbor, the region’s Shiite heavyweight.

Al-Douri, who was Saddam’s deputy, has been reported dead or captured more than once in the past. He has not been seen in public since the U.S.-led invasion, though audio tapes purporting to be from him have been released, as well as a video as recently as last April. His whereabouts are not known.

Al-Douri is believed to have played a key role in financing Sunni insurgents seeking to undermine Iraq’s post-Saddam government. He was the “king of clubs” in the deck of playing cards issued by the U.S. to help troops identify the most-wanted members of Saddam’s regime.

The newspaper said the interview was conducted through an online question-and-answer session, and The Associated Press could not immediately verify that it was with al-Douri. The interview also appeared on the website of Saddam’s Baath party, which is outlawed in Iraq.

In Baghdad, a spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite prime minister called the report “worthless propaganda.”

“Al-Douri has no value, whether he is alive or dead,” said Ali al-Moussawi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)