American experts were studying a new recording last night, purportedly of Saddam Hussein, warning the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq or face "disastrous" losses.
As with previous recordings, the tape broadcast by al-Arabiya television yesterday was of poor quality. But experts said the voice seemed to be Saddam's. And the message was familiar too, urging Iraqis to 'tighten the noose" around the Americans, and to "conduct jihad" by every possible means. The speaker called on Allied leaders "to withdraw your armies as soon as possible and without any conditions, because there is no reason for further losses that will be disastrous for America if your officials ... continue their aggression".
Whether or not it is genuine, the latest tape - dated by the speaker to "mid-September" - is an effort by the anti-American resistance to convince Iraqis that Saddam is alive and in charge. The voice however sounded very tired, and at one point the speaker repeated the same sentence twice.
In a new twist, which also would seem to confirm the 14-minute tape is of very recent origin, the speaker calls on the UN Security Council to withhold approval of US actions in Iraq.
Washington is in the midst of intense diplomatic efforts to secure agreement for a draft UN resolution authorising a multilateral force and setting out a process leading to Iraqi self-rule. Ideally the US would like to have agreement by the time President George Bush addresses the General Assembly next Tuesday. But in words explicitly directed to the UN, the Saddam voice warns that "Iraq and its leaders will refuse any solution that is made while the country is under the shadow of occupation. We will consider it to be a ruse".
The speaker said he was bringing the Iraqi people the "pleasant news" that "losses have begun to eat away at the enemy like wildfire". Iraqis, he said, should show their anger by attacks, demonstrations, graffiti and financial contributions to the resistance.
Publicly the Bush administration insists that the resistance - which has taken the lives of more than 80 US and British servicemen since Mr Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on 1 May - consists solely of "Baathist dead-enders, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs", as Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, put it on Tuesday.
But signs are growing that many ordinary Iraqis, angry at the occupation, are at the least sympathetic to the attacks, running at 15 or more every day. According to The New York Times yesterday, private US intelligence surveys suggest hostility now extends well beyond the so-called "Sunni triangle" to the north and west of Baghdad, where guerrilla attacks are most common.
Last night, the US-appointed Interim Governing Council in Iraq also urged Washington to hand sovereignty back to Iraq as soon as possible, blaming the disorder in the country on its exclusion from post-war security decisions. Ahmed Chalabi, who holds the council's rotating presidency, said the 25-member body had passed draft legislation on trade, citizenship and investment that showed Iraqis could run their own country. "The Governing Council is set on regaining sovereignty for Iraq," he said.
* The Spanish investigating judge Baltazar Garzon indicted Osama bin Laden and 34 others yesterday on charges of terrorism, including the 11 September attacks in the US.Reuse content