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7 Iraqi Policemen Killed in Powerful Explosion - 2003-07-05

An explosion outside an Iraqi police training facility has killed at least seven Iraqis and wounded dozens of others in the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

Witnesses say as many as 75 Iraqi policemen and police recruits had just graduated Saturday morning from a training course conducted by U.S. troops. The Iraqi men were walking along a road when the blast occurred.

The U.S. military in Baghdad would not speculate on what caused the explosion, saying the matter was being investigated. But news agencies are reporting that a powerful roadside bomb may have been responsible.

Ramadi, about 95 kilometers west of Baghdad, is one of several predominately Sunni Muslim towns in the area, which are strongholds of support for deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. For several weeks, Ramadi has been the site of frequent attacks that have killed U.S. troops and innocent Iraqis.

The explosion comes a day after the broadcast of an audiotape, purportedly from Saddam Hussein, on the Arab television network, Al-Jazeera. The voice on the tape urged all Iraqis to continue resisting coalition troop presence, and promised more attacks against what it termed the "infidel invaders" in the coming days.

U.S. officials say the Central Intelligence Agency is analyzing the tape to verify whether the voice is really that of Saddam Hussein. But it is clear that many Iraqis are becoming increasingly convinced that the ousted leader survived the U.S.-led war, and is planning to return to power.

The owner of a music store in downtown Baghdad, Ahmed, is one of many people here who believe the audiotape is that of the ousted leader.

Ahmed says he does think that Saddam is alive, but he does not want to say whether the news is good or bad. He says all Iraqis suffered under Saddam, and they are still suffering, so it really does not matter who is in charge of the country.

For weeks, coalition troops have been ambushed on a daily basis. But the attacks have become increasingly bolder in recent days.

On Friday, a mortar round hit a U.S. base near the central Iraqi town of Balad, wounding 16 soldiers, two seriously. Hours later, 11 Iraqis attacked a U.S. military convoy on a highway near Balad. U.S. soldiers returned fire, killing all of the men.

U.S. officials say they believe the attacks are not centrally organized. But the uncertainty over the fate of Saddam Hussein is clearly hampering coalition efforts to rebuild a stable post-war Iraq.

Two days ago, Washington announced that the United States would pay a $25 million reward for information leading to the capture of the former Iraqi leader. The reward for the capture of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, is $15 million for each.