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Purported Saddam Tape Aired on Tense Anniversary

Purported Saddam Tape Aired on Tense Anniversary

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A speaker purported to be Saddam Hussein exhorted his followers to wage a holy war against U.S. and British forces in a new recording played Thursday -- the anniversary of the revolution that put the former leader's party in power in Iraq.

Arabic television stations broadcast the audio tape as U.S. troops were on the lookout for attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1968 Baath party revolution. Saddam officially took power 11 years later.

The recording criticizes the new Governing Council of Iraq and calls President Bush a liar.

"Anything issued by the occupation is to weaken Iraq," the taped voice said. "The only solution ... is a jihad (holy war) to resist the occupation," said the voice."

The tape, which reporters familiar with Saddam's voice said sounded authentic, appeared to be new since the Governing Council was established Sunday. But there was no way to independently authenticate the recording or to be sure of when it was made.

U.S. intelligence officials said they were conducting a technical analysis to authenticate the message but said it was too soon to reach any conclusions.

American troops were gearing up for attacks to mark the anniversary, but, as of the afternoon, there were no reports of violence involving U.S. forces in Baghdad.

U.S. soldiers have come under increasingly ferocious and frequent attack by suspected Saddam loyalists in recent weeks -- reaching an average of 12 attacks a day. More than 30 U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostile action since Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1.

The Pentagon on Thursday raised the number of U.S. personnel killed in combat since the start of the Iraq war on March 20 to 147 -- equaling the total killed in combat during the 1991 Gulf War.

Streets normally filled with American Humvees and tanks were strangely quiet Thursday, perhaps part of an effort to avoid confrontation.

About the only thing on Baghdad's streets Thursday were rumors: one that Saddam would make some sort of personal appearance after weeks in hiding, and the other that he had finally been captured by U.S. forces. There was no evidence either rumor was true.

Iraq's new Governing Council, in its first act Sunday, swept aside the July 17 celebration and five other dates the Baath Party designated as official holidays.

The Pentagon's second-in-command was in Baghdad on Thursday to assess progress in rebuilding the fractured country.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, was meeting with the top American administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander of the approximately 160,000 American and coalition forces in Iraq.

"I look forward to seeing firsthand evidence of what it means for the Iraqi people to be liberated from decades of brutal repression," Wolfowitz said after stepping off an Air Force C-17 cargo plane following a 12-hour overnight flight from Washington.

Also Thursday, the military announced the discovery of yet another mass grave, this one believed to be filled with as many as 400 Kurdish women and children allegedly executed by Saddam.

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division discovered the grave on the side of dried up riverbed in Hatra, about 65 miles south of the northern city of Mosul. A mass grave assessment team, including members of the military's criminal investigation unit, was sent to the site.

Some 25 sets of remains -- all women and children -- have been pulled from the grave, each with a bullet hole in the skull. The military said the size of the area leads them to believe it contains between 200 and 400 bodies.

Since the end of the war, dozens of mass graves have been discovered -- many of them containing hundreds of bodies. The United Nations is investigating the killing or disappearance of at least 300,000 Iraqis believed murdered by the regime.

The speaker on the tape played Thursday lashed out at Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying they tricked their people to justify the war.

"What will they say to their people and to mankind? What will the chorus of lies say to those that backed them?" said the voice. "What will they say to the world after they devised the scenario of lies against Iraq's people, leadership and culture?"

"The lies were known to the U.S. president and the British prime minister when they decided to launch a war and aggression," said the tape.

Bush and Blair have come under increasing criticism at home over some of the intelligence used in the run-up to the war.

The voice said that the Governing Council was created "by the will of the foreigners, therefore it is the servant of the foreigner and not a servant of the people."

The Governing Council was selected by the U.S.-led coalition after months of consultations with Iraqi political groups. It brings together 25 prominent Iraqis from all walks of political and religious life, but was not elected.

Also Thursday, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority announced the start of bidding to provide mobile telecommunications services in Iraq. The authority said it would award up to three licenses, one for the north, one for central Iraq, and one for the south, and that the licenses would be good for two years.

Iraq's phone system was shattered by U.S. bombing during the war, and could take many months to be brought into service. Most feel getting a mobile system established will be quicker.

On the diplomatic front, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said Moscow is prepared to consider a U.S. proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at bringing more international troops to Iraq and would consider sending its own peacekeepers under a U.N. mandate, the Interfax news agency reported.

In Washington, the new chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that coalition forces are facing a "classical guerrilla-type war situation."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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