Baghdad: Iraqi officials said today they believe that government forces killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former deputy of Saddam Hussein who for over a decade was the top fugitive from the ousted regime and became an underground figure involved in Sunni insurgencies, most recently allying with Islamic State militants.

It was not the first time Iraqi officials have claimed to have killed or captured al-Douri, who was the "king of clubs" in the deck of playing cards issued to help American troops identify key regime fugitives after the 2003 US-led invasion ousted Saddam. DNA tests were underway to confirm whether a body recovered from fighting around the city of Tikrit was al-Douri's.

Reports of al-Douri's death came as Iraqi forces are trying to push back Islamic State group fighters in Salahuddin province, where Tikrit is located. Government troops took back several towns near the country's largest oil refinery at Beiji in the province, officials said.

Further north, a large car bomb exploded today afternoon next to the US Consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, a rare attack in the capital of the Kurdish autonomy zone. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said the powerful blast went off outside a cafe next to the building, setting several nearby cars on fire.

There was no immediate word on casualties. A US official said no consulate personnel or guards were killed or injured in today's blast. The governor of Salahuddin province, Raed al-Jabouri, told the AP that al-Douri was killed by Iraqi troops and Shia militiamen in an operation in the Talal Hamreen mountains east of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, which was retaken from the Islamic State group earlier this month.

Troops opened fire at a convoy carrying al-Douri and nine bodyguards, killing all of them, according to Gen Haider al-Basri, a senior Iraqi commander speaking to state TV. The government issues several photos showing a body purported to be al-Douri.

The body had a bright red beard, perhaps dyed, and a gingerlilgh-coloured moustache. Al-Douri was a fair-skinned redhead with a ginger moustache, making him distinctive among Saddam's inner circle. DNA tests were underway to confirm the identity of the body, Iraqi intelligence officials told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.