Iraqi officials say they believe that late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's former deputy and alleged mastermind of the Islamic State (IS) group was killed in a wide-scale military operation in central Iraq on April 17.
Local and military officials said Ezzat al-Douri was killed in the Talal Hamreen Mountains, east of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit in the Salahuddin Province.
Nicknamed "the iceman" for his humble origins selling blocks of ice, Douri was known as the "king of clubs" in the deck of playing cards issued to help U.S. troops identify key members of Saddam's regime after the 2003 invasion.
Senior Iraqi General Haider al-Basri told Iraqi state TV that Douri and nine bodyguards were killed by Iraqi forces and Shi'ite militias while riding in a convoy.
The general didn't elaborate on why the Iraqi forces opened fire at the convoy.
"A group of security forces went and surrounded the area and those terrorists were killed. Three of them were suicide bombers and blew themselves up. Amongst the bodies was Douri's," said Salahuddin Governor Raed al-Jabouri.
Jabouri said the operation was carried out in the Hamrin area near al Alam in Salahuddin province, but that Iraqi forces did not know Douri was there beforehand.
The operation by government soldiers and allied Shi'ite militias is aimed at securing the rest of the province after IS militants were pushed out of Tikrit.
A series of graphic images purported to be of Douri's corpse were issued by the government later on April 17.
Iraqi officials said DNA tests will be conducted to confirm his identity.
Douri was officially the number 2 man in Iraq's ruling hierarchy during Saddam's rule.
He disappeared since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and was widely rumored to be in hiding in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi governor said Douri was considered a "mastermind" of the IS militant group.
However, Khdhayer Almurshidy, a spokesman for Iraq's former Baath party, told Iraq's Al-Hadath television that the reports were false. Douri was a senior member of the party.
This is not the first time Iraqi officials claimed to have killed or captured Douri.
In 2003, the government said Douri was arrested, circulating a photo of a bearded man who resembled him. The government later said it was a case of mistaken identity.
It has also been rumored that Douri had died from leukemia and kidney failure.
When Tikrit was overrun by IS militants last June, witnesses said fighters raised posters of Saddam and Douri.
Government forces regained control of Tikrit on April 1.
After Saddam Hussein was toppled and before Al-Qaeda and later Islamic State rose to prominence in the country, Douri led an insurgency against Iraq's Shi'ite-led government.
Former Baathists in Iraq have also joined forces with Islamic State to fight Baghdad. Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim militant group, has seized one-third of Syria and large swaths of Iraq, and this year proclaimed a caliphate across the two countries in the heart of the Middle East.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP