Speaker Claiming to Be Hussein Urges Jihad

Times Staff Writer

An audiotape purportedly made by Saddam Hussein and aired Sunday by an Arab satellite channel urged Iraqis to step up an insurgency against U.S.-led coalition forces and predicted that the fugitive former dictator would return to power.

While the authenticity of the tape, aired on the Al Arabiya channel, could not be immediately determined, several Iraqis who heard the voice said it seemed to be that of Hussein. However, some listeners commented on its husky nature and somewhat halting delivery, as if the speaker was having trouble reading a text.

"The road of jihad and resistance" is the only choice for patriotic Iraqis, said the speaker, who also accused the White House of lying about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. Bush administration officials had argued before the war that Hussein's regime possessed such weapons and that they posed a threat, but none have been found.

The speaker added that it would be impossible for Americans to prevail in Iraq because of the country's unique character.

"Iraq has a special chemical makeup that can only be overcome by the true and faithful among the people of Iraq," he said.

It was unclear when exactly the tape was made, although the speaker indicated it was recorded as recently as the weekend. However, the speech made no mention of any current events in Iraq, such as the recent decision by the United States to speed up the hand-over of power to a provisional government or the recent downings of several American helicopters.

A spokesman for Al Arabiya told Associated Press that the 15-minute address was delivered to the station by telephone only minutes before it was broadcast.

Asked about the tape, President Bush said: "I suspect that it's the same old stuff. You know, it's propaganda, and we're not leaving until the job is done."

Hussein vanished from Baghdad on April 9; the United States has offered a $25-million reward for information leading to his capture.

The tape, the first purported to be from the ousted dictator since September, surfaced as United States forces announced a new drive to hunt down senior former regime officials around Hussein's home city of Tikrit.

Dubbed Operation Ivy Cyclone II, the air and ground campaign will be aimed at "neutralizing paramilitary, former regime loyalists, foreign fighters and other extremist and subversive elements" using tips from Iraqi citizens, a statement from the military said.

After a sharp increase in the number of U.S. and coalition casualties since the start of Islam's holy month of Ramadan in late October, U.S. officers are taking a more aggressive stance, including bombing houses and other facilities used by insurgents from fixed-wing planes.

For the first time since Bush declared major combat over on May 1, the military on Sunday fired a satellite-guided missile in Iraq. The airstrike targeted an island in a river in northern Iraq where insurgents were said to have had a training camp.

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