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Tape purported to be Saddam urges war against U.S., British troops

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Another audiotape claiming to be the voice of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein surfaced Thursday in Baghdad, urging Iraqis to wage holy war against U.S. and British forces.

In Washington, Pentagon officials were looking for ways to relieve exhausted American troops in Iraq, including the possibility of calling up large numbers of reserves and National Guard units.

In the tape-recording, first broadcast on the Arabic-language television network al Arabiya, Saddam accused President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, and he urged his followers to continue attacking the coalition forces even if he is killed or captured.

"The only way is a jihad (holy war) against the occupation," the voice said.

The tape was the third with a voice claiming to be Saddam's to surface in Iraq since U.S. forces liberated Baghdad three months ago. But even as American soldiers and ordinary Iraqis braced for new attacks Thursday to mark the 35th anniversary of the coup that brought Saddam's Baath Party to power, the streets of the capital were largely quiet, and reaction to the tape was indifferent.

"We should treat him as a ghost," said Ahmed Fadhil, a 34-year-old bus driver, as he sought shade under a pair of trees from the blazing afternoon sun and searing 110-degree heat. "There is a ghost in Iraq called Saddam, but there is no Saddam anymore."

Speaking of the plans to relieve troops, a senior U.S. military official said, "Everything is under consideration, to include reserve forces, the Army and the Marines. It's still very much in the planning stages."

"As the commander (Army Gen. John Abizaid) has indicated, it is his belief that the force levels are appropriate for the situation right now," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He is looking at a range of things, to include international forces as well as additional units, to be used for rotating out those (U.S. combat) units that have been there for a considerable length of time."

In addition to the 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, there are 19,000 troops here from 19 other countries in Kuwait and Iraq. Most of them are British. Another 19 countries have said they are willing to provide forces totaling 11,000 troops, and the United States is discussing contributions with another dozen countries.

The Pentagon said Thursday that 147 U.S. service members had been killed in combat in Iraq since the war started March 19, the same number who were killed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. According to military officials in Baghdad, 34 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat operations over May 1. Another 33 U.S. soldiers have died in nonhostile incidents, and 239 have been wounded.

An Army spokesman in Baghdad said coalition authorities weren't aware of the purported Saddam tape and couldn't confirm its authenticity. However, al Arabiya senior correspondent Saad al Silawi said he was certain the voice on the tape was genuine.

"I guarantee you it was his voice," said al Silawi, who said he found the tape under a bush outside his hotel after an anonymous caller told him it had been left there. "If you hear Saddam, and you've heard him before, then you know it is him."

On the tape, the voice refers to recent attacks on American soldiers in the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi in western Iraq, both hotbeds of anti-U.S. sentiment, calling them "the jewel in the crown of Iraq" and "the long spear of Iraq." It also refers to the new Iraqi governing council, which was appointed Sunday, calling its members traitors, an indication that the tape was made this week.

Rumors of Saddam's whereabouts abound. In the latest, he is alive and well in the capital, rallying supporters to his cause. Another on Thursday had him captured by coalition forces. Each fresh attack on U.S. troops, especially when innocent Iraqi bystanders are killed, prompts fears that he and his supporters may somehow grab power again.

Ammer Alajim, 33, a watch repairman, said he thought those fears were overblown.

"We are not afraid of this Saddam tape," he said. "Saddam is from the past. Even if these rumors were true, then how could Saddam ever come back? They found the mass graves and the other things he did. He is against humanity. We will never let him come back."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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