'Saddam tape' denies role in Najaf massacre

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The Independent Online

In what appeared to be a new audio recording of Saddam Hussein, broadcast yesterday by the al-Jazeera network, the deposed Iraqi dictator denied that he or his supporters were behind the car bombing in Najaf, in which at least 125 people were killed, including the senior Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr al-Hakim.

If the tape is genuine, the timing of its release seemed like a taunt to the Americans, a day after US military raids were launched in Mosul to find Saddam. In the recording, the man first quotes a verse from the Koran: "Ye believers, if a corrupt person brought you news, check it well before accusing arbitrarily. Otherwise you will regret your decision."

Then he addresses Iraqis: "Many of you will have heard the snakes hissing, the servants of the invaders, occupiers, infidels, and how they have managed to accuse the followers of Saddam Hussein of responsibility for the attack on al-Hakim without any evidence.

"They rushed to accuse before investigating. They did that to divert attention from the real culprits. They have the obligation now to tell the people the real truth of what happened."

The bombing, and the death of Ayatollah Hakim, have brought Shia anger to the streets and threaten to destabilise the US occupation. Shia leaders have denounced the Americans for the breakdown of security. There are also fears of inter-ethnic violence, with some of Hakim's followers blaming Saddam supporters

"Whatever mysterious thing has happened, the true answers can only be found through an honest investigation by a national government in the future," the recording continues. "That can only happen once the invaders and occupiers are kicked out of Iraq, which will happen soon, God willing."

Then, the former dictator, a Sunni Muslim suggests he can bring unity to Iraq. "I say: Saddam Hussein is not the leader of a minority or a group within a group ... He is the leader of the great Iraqi people, Arabs, Kurds, Muslims and non-Muslims."

The funeral for Ayatollah Hakim, moved yesterday from Baghdadto Karbala.

The FBI said it would join the investigation into the bombing, so far been conducted by Iraqi police.

While some Iraqis blame Saddam loyalists, the police in Najaf have accused al-Qa'ida and claimed they arrested 19 suspects. Reports from Najaf said two Saudis and two Kuwaitis were arrested shortly after the bombing, after locals saw them in an internet cafe sending an email which read: "Mission accomplished - the dog is dead".