Baghdad, July 17 (Reuters): An audiotape said to be by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, broadcast today, called for Iraqis to mount a “jihad” to oust occupying US troops.
A massive manhunt has failed to find Saddam since he was toppled in April, but officials in Washington believe he is probably alive.
“The enemy wants to weaken Iraq and the only genuine solution is to resist the occupation through jihad (holy struggle) to inflict losses and evict the enemy from Iraq,” the speaker on the tape said. The tape, aired by al Arabiya and al Jazeera satellite TV, coincided with the 35th anniversary of the Baath Party coup which paved the way for Saddam’s iron-fisted rule.
In Iraq, US troops were on alert fearing attacks by Saddam loyalists coinciding with the anniversary of the 1968 Baath Party coup. But for the first time in 35 years, most Iraqis ignored the day which was previously marked by massive parades, speeches and songs in praise of Saddam and his widely feared Baathists. “This is the best July 17th I’ve seen so far because there is no Saddam and no Baath,” said Fadil Amin, a translator in Baghdad. “We’re better off without them, even if we don’t have any electrical power or water and security is abysmal.”
There were no speeches or fanfare in the capital as most Iraqis went about their daily business. Shops and public departments remained open.
In Washington, a US intelligence official said the Saddam tape, the third to be broadcast since he was toppled on April 9, was being reviewed to determine its authenticity and glean further information.
Listeners familiar with Saddam’s speeches said the voice and style of address sounded very like the former Iraqi leader.
The speaker on the tape described as “baseless” US and British allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the main justification for the war. He also vowed resistance against US troops would intensify. “The foreign occupier occupied Iraq to weaken it and destroy its resources, that is why the only solution... is to resist the occupation to make the enemy fail.
“I am confident that our people who rejected the occupation will resist them,” the voice said.
The speaker dismissed the new US-backed Iraqi Governing Council, which met for the first time this week, as a puppet of Washington.
The US military had expected a surge of attacks this week to coincide with anniversaries linked to Saddam, the Baath Party and Iraqi nationalism. Witnesses said US forces tightened security around its positions in Baghdad today and areas to the north and west.