A new audio tape, purported to be Saddam Hussein exhorting Iraqis to reject the presence of U.S. forces, has surfaced. It is the first alleged tape by the former Iraqi leader since he was ousted from power last month and comes amid questions about whether he may have survived the American-led war to topple his government. Efforts are under way to determine whether the tape is genuine.
On this audio tape, a speaker claiming to be Saddam Hussein says he is still in Iraq. And, in a reference to the U.S. and coalition forces that removed him from power, he urges all Iraqis to face what he terms "the invaders" and kick "the enemy" out of the country.
The 15 minute monologue was turned over to reporter Ed O'Loughlan of Australia's Sydney Morning Herald in Baghdad, by someone who said he was trying to get it to the Arab al-Jazeera television network.
"To get there he needs to pass through a U.S. security cordon by American troops," explained Mr. O'Loughlan, "and eventually in a conversation with my translator, one of them basically thrust this tape and him and said, for the good of Iraq, make sure this gets broadcast, and then they sped off."
At the White House, Spokesman Ari Fleischer says the tape will be analyzed but at this point, American officials have not been able to confirm whether the voice is that of the former Iraqi leader. Just last week, a widely read Arab newspaper based in London said it received a written message from Saddam urging his countrymen to rise up. Twice targeted by air strikes during the war, Saddam Hussein's fate still remains unknown although U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says his hunch is that he is still alive.
Former CIA analyst Judith Yaphe, who specializes in Middle East issues at the National Defense University, compares the questions about the fate of Saddam Hussein to that of another wanted fugitive.
"I don't want to make a whole big deal about how this replicates Osama bin Laden's strategy, isn't that interesting. I think you have to look at it as a fact that he could very well be somewhere in Iraq, I would guess in the north, which is not under great control," she said.
Recently, there have been a series of indications that senior members of the ousted Iraqi government, perhaps even Saddam Hussein and his two sons, may have survived the war and are trying to escape to another country. U.S. officials say on the eve of war in March, members of the Iraqi leader's family carted out nearly a billion dollars from Iraq's central bank. And, in the days since, American officials accused Syria of allowing members of the ousted Iraqi government to flee there, a charge the Syrian government denies.