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Another Purported Saddam Tape Airs on Baath Party Anniversary - 2003-07-17

Another audiotape, purported to be the voice of Saddam Hussein, has aired on Arab-language television on the anniversary of the 1968 Baathist revolution that brought Saddam's party to power. Meanwhile, U.S. troops are on heightened alert for a possible surge of attacks against them by Saddam loyalists.

The new audiotape aired on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television channel.

The five-minute tape, said to have been made by Saddam Hussein, urges Iraqis to reject the newly-formed Iraqi governing council. It also criticizes U.S. and British claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which were used to justify the war that ousted Saddam from power on April 9.

The reference to the council, which was established on Sunday, indicates the tape was made recently.

The latest tape follows two other audiotapes allegedly of the former Iraqi leader, which aired on Arabic television channels in recent weeks. None has been confirmed to carry the voice of Saddam.

Most Iraqis in Baghdad ignored the anniversary of the day the Baath party seized power in 1968.

During Saddam's rule, the day used to be marked with speeches and lavish parades. But on Sunday, the Iraqi governing council abolished all holidays associated with his regime. For the first time in 35 years, stores and businesses remained open on July 17, and Iraqis went about their daily business.

But many Iraqis say they remain fearful of threats from Saddam loyalists, particularly against those working with or seen as being friendly to coalition forces. In an upscale Baghdad neighborhood that threat was visible in the form of a fresh graffiti written on a wall. It said in bright, bold Arabic script, "Death to the enemies of Iraq. Death to America".

After a violent day on Wednesday during which a number of Iraqis and one U.S. soldier were killed in several attacks, U.S. troops in Baghdad remained on high alert.

Bradley fighting vehicles flanked Humvee military cars as they conducted patrols through the city. Next to busy highways frequently used by troops, combat engineers set fire to shrubs so that the vegetation could not be used as cover for ambushes.

But U.S. Army reserve Lieutenant William Civish, whose platoon was out early clearing vegetation, insisted the threat they faced was no different than any other day.

"For us, today is a normal operating day. As for heightened security, I am not aware of them where we are at. We do this every day," he said.

U.S. soldiers were also back at the site of Wednesday's deadly grenade attack. The soldiers were guarding a bank when the attack occurred. The explosion wounded one soldier and killed two Iraqi civilians, including a young boy.

Standing defiantly in front of the bank, Staff Sergeant Antonio Rico told VOA that such violence will not keep the troops from carrying out their orders.

"It is bad that it happened, but we are going to stay here until we get the job done," he said.

On Wednesday, the new head of U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, told reporters that U.S. troops in Iraq are facing classic guerrilla warfare, mostly led by Saddam loyalists. Attacks have killed 33 U.S. soldiers since major combat was declared over on May 1.

As troop casualties mount, Washington is becoming increasingly worried that Baathists are using the fact that Saddam has not been captured to rally their supporters and to intimidate Iraqis who would otherwise be sympathetic to U.S. goals.

For the coalition here, the latest audiotape only emphasizes the urgency of finding Saddam Hussein.