Warning as Saddam loyalists vow revenge

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A group loyal to Saddam Hussein vowed in a videotape aired on an Arab television network yesterday to avenge the killing of his sons, Uday and Qusay.

"We pledge to you Iraqi people that we will continue in the jihad against the infidels. The killing of Uday and Qusay will be avenged," said a masked man claiming to be from the Saddam Fedayeen, a militia formerly led by Uday, on the tape broadcast by al-Arabiya.

The group also threatened to kill Iraqis who "collaborate" with the US forces.

At the same time, one of the triumvirate heading Iraq's newly formed Governing Council issued a sharp warning to Iraqis yesterday, saying that attacks on American troops would only increase the Iraqi death toll and prolong the foreign presence in the country.

Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister and elder statesman chosen to head the Council's delegation to the United Nations this week, was speaking in London on his way back to Baghdad. He said: "If they think these acts will force the US out of Iraq, they are mistaken. They are not in the interests of the Iraqi people. They are just costing more lives, not only Americans', but Iraqis'."

Casting doubt on US claims that attacks on its troops were orchestrated, Dr Pachachi said they were "sporadic, not co-ordinated, acts of violence" that targeted not only Americans, but also Iraqis.

Dr Pachachi set out an approximate timetable for a constitutional process that would lead to elections "within a year or at most 18 months". "[US troops] staying through 2004 could create problems for the re-election of Bush," he told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Both he and two members of the Council who had accompanied him to New York expressed confidence that a constitutional commission would be set up shortly, with a process of consultation followed by a constitutional conference "as soon as possible" after that.

However, they acknowledged the scale of the task, saying that at present Iraq had "no electoral law, no reliable census, no laws on political parties and no judicial system" - all of which were needed before elections could be held.

Of the Council itself, whose authority has been questioned because of the process of selection from which it emerged, Dr Pachachi said: "We hope to prove to the Iraqi people that we deserve their trust, and think we are fit to govern Iraq after this very difficult period."

Dr Pachachi, who was foreign minister in a pre-Saddam government and is now 80, returned from exile in Abu Dhabi to join the Council.

In London, diplomats regard him as someone who could play a role similar to that played in Afghanistan by President Hamid Karzai - although they recognise that the circumstances are different.

However, Washington has appeared reluctant to reduce its support for the Pentagon's favoured post-Saddam leader, Ahmad Chalabi. He is one of the triumvirate leading the Council and was a member of the delegation that went to New York. He did not come to London.

Dr Pachachi expressed deep regret that outside intervention had been required to topple Saddam and that the Iraqis had not been able to effect the change themselves. He said that Saddam and his family should have taken up offers of exile abroad to spare Iraq "the war, the looting, the lawlessness and the destruction of the very basis of the state".

As late as March, he said, the United Arab Emirates had proposed that Saddam relinquish power and go into exile. If that had happened, the UN and the Arab League were ready to oversee Iraq's transition to democracy.

Since the war, he said, he regretted that the UN had not been given a greater role. "I wanted the UN to have a central role, to oversee the whole process. Unfortunately, that did not happen."