| i am back! Arnold Schwarzenegger with US soldiers in Baghdad on Friday. (Reuters)
Baghdad, July 4 (Reuters): An audio tape purporting to be from Saddam Hussein and aired by Arabic television channel al Jazeera today urged Iraqis to support resistance to US forces and warned Americans of more bloodshed to come.
In the latest clash today — American Independence Day — US forces killed 11 gunmen who tried to ambush a military patrol northwest of Baghdad, the US military said.
No confirmation was available that the voice on the tape was indeed that of the former Iraqi President, who has not been seen in public since American forces ousted him on April 9.
But the voice, which said he was well and in Iraq, sounded like Saddam and the bellicose language and tone of the message was similar to his previous speeches.
“The next few days, God willing, will be arduous for the infidel invaders and honourable for the faithful...,” the voice on the tape said, addressing the Iraqi people.
“I urge you to protect the heroic resistance fighters and not to give the infidel invaders or their aides any information or help about their operations,” said the voice which added that the recording was made on June 14.
The US, backed by Britain, invaded Iraq to rid it of alleged weapons of mass destruction, and had hoped to be welcomed as a liberator by the Iraqis.
But in recent weeks dozens of its soldiers have been killed or wounded in an increasingly concerted campaign of armed resistance, while it has failed to find either Saddam or any proof of the weapons. Today US forces killed 11 gunmen who tried to ambush a patrol near the town of Balad northwest of Baghdad, a day after a mortar attack in the area left 16 US soldiers wounded.
“I am in Iraq and with a comrade,” said the voice on the tape. “I tell you that I miss you, miss you, oh beloved people, even though I am among you and in your ranks.”
Most Iraqis in Baghdad had not heard the message. The few who own satellite dishes appeared disinterested.
“We don’t care if Saddam is ruling us or the Americans. We want water and electricity and security and stability,” said one man at a barber shop who declined to be named, a reminder of the days when the wrong comment could mean prison, or death.
Yesterday the US offered a $25 million bounty for information leading to Saddam’s capture or providing evidence of his death. Rewards were also offered for his two sons and lieutenants, Uday and Qusay.
Asked about the tape, a British ministry of defence official in London told Reuters: “As far as I am aware, we cannot vouch for its authenticity.”
The White House and the Pentagon had no immediate comment on the tape.
Hostile fire has killed 26 American soldiers in Iraq since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Six British soldiers have died in the same period. Washington has accused diehard Saddam supporters of launching on average 13 daily attacks over the past six weeks.
The latest US casualty was a soldier guarding the National Museum in Baghdad, shot dead by a sniper yesterday evening. Another was wounded in a blast in the Iraqi capital today.
News of the attacks cast a sombre shadow over July 4 celebrations for US troops and civilian administrators in Iraq. It also underscored suspicions that Iraqi resistance fighters were becoming bolder, more organised and deadlier.
In a badly needed distraction from the violence, action movie megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger visited American soldiers celebrating July 4, America’s Independence Day.
“First of all congratulations for saying ‘hasta la vista (goodbye) baby’ to Saddam Hussein. I came here from the US because I wanted to pump you all up,” he said to cheers from soldiers in sand-coloured camouflage uniforms. A US military statement said a patrol “defeated an ambush” near Balad, 90 km northwest of Baghdad, killing “all of the attackers”. A spokesman said 11 gunmen had been killed.
Hours earlier, 16 US soldiers were wounded when mortar bombs slammed into a base used to supply troops near Balad.