Tikrit, July 29 (Reuters): An audio tape purportedly from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein broadcast today vowed to defeat the United States to avenge the deaths of his two sons by US forces.
“I mourn to you the deaths of Uday and Qusay and those who struggled with them. You are the honour of this nation. America will be defeated,” said the voice on the tape, aired by Dubai-based al Arabiya television.
“They... died martyrs in the name of jihad (holy war),” the voice said.
The speech was rambling, breaking off in mid-sentence on occasions, but a Reuters correspondent familiar with Saddam’s voice said the tape sounded like the deposed dictator.
A number of tapes purportedly from Saddam have been broadcast in the past few weeks, but this was the first to refer to the killing of his two sons by US troops last Tuesday in a bloody raid on a villa in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The US military said troops hunting Saddam had captured three key figures loyal to the former Iraqi leader, including a top bodyguard, and were closing in on Saddam himself.
Major Josslyn Aberle said one of the captured Saddam loyalists put up a brief struggle and that two gunshots were heard as the raid began in the area of Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad. There were no US casualties.
Television pictures filmed through a night vision lens showed a man being escorted from a building by US soldiers, blood seeping through a blindfold. US troops believe Saddam may be hiding somewhere in the Tigris valley of dusty tomato fields and orchards.
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said US forces nearly captured Saddam in raids yesterday near Tikrit.
“I think most people feel that the noose is tightening pretty regularly around the neck of Saddam Hussein. Even today there were three raids and we believe we were just hours behind Saddam Hussein,” Armitage said on CNN.
Officers say that after Saddam’s feared sons were killed last week — and Washington promised to pay an Iraqi informant a $30 million reward — many more Iraqis were coming forward with information on Saddam himself.
The US is offering $25 million for information leading to the arrest or proof of death of Saddam, toppled from power by US-led forces on April 9.
Washington hopes finding Saddam would help end a guerrilla campaign that has killed 50 US troops since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. The US military blames die-hard Saddam loyalists for the attacks, and some officers had said they hoped the killing of Uday and Qusay a week ago in Mosul would demoralise anti-American assailants.
But 11 US soldiers have been killed in attacks since Saddam’s sons died in a barrage of machinegun fire, grenades, rockets and anti-tank missiles as they mounted a last stand with AK-47 assault rifles.
Rumours swirled through financial markets today that Saddam had been captured, but the Pentagon said it had no information to provide confirmation.
Washington hopes tentative efforts at self-rule will appease Iraqis who dislike the US occupation. The 25 US appointees on an Iraqi governing council seem to have been making slow progress in its two weeks of existence.