- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

BAGHDAD — In an audiotape marking yesterday’s 35th anniversary of the Ba’ath Party coup, a voice claiming to be that of Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to continue a “holy war” against U.S. forces. Even so, the banned holiday was a remarkably quiet day for American troops in Iraq.

The voice on the audiotape, broadcast on two Arab satellite television networks, said the tape was recorded three days earlier to commemorate the holiday. Saddam’s last ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed al-Douri, told one of the networks the voice sounded like his former boss.

American helicopters filled the Baghdad skies late yesterday afternoon, presumably as security for Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy secretary of defense, who will tour the country to see U.S. commanders and increasingly demoralized soldiers.

Yesterday, the Pentagon raised the number of U.S. personnel killed in combat since the start of the Iraq war on March 19 to 147 — equaling the total killed in combat during the 1991 Gulf war.

Of that number, 30 members of the U.S. occupying force of 160,000 have been killed in anti-American assaults since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities in Iraq on May 1.

“I look forward to seeing firsthand evidence of what it means for the Iraqi people to be liberated from decades of brutal repression,” Mr. Wolfowitz said after his 12-hour flight from Washington.

The audio recording criticized the new Governing Council of Iraq and said Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied to the world to justify their war on Iraq.

The speaker said the Governing Council, handpicked by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, was created “by the will of the foreigners, therefore it is the servant of the foreigner and not a servant of the people. Anything issued by the occupation is to weaken Iraq.”

“The only solution … is a [holy war] to resist the occupation,” he said.

The tape appeared to be new, because the Governing Council was established Sunday. But there was no way to independently authenticate who made the recording.

In the city of Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, a crowd of about 100 people waved Kalashnikovs to celebrate the Ba’ath coup that led to Saddam’s rise to power 11 years later. The Governing Council banned the holiday as one of its first actions.

“Saddam, we’ll sacrifice our blood and souls for you,” the men chanted.

In Baghdad, streets normally filled with American Humvees and tanks were strangely quiet, perhaps part of an effort to avoid confrontation. While force visibility was down, rumors filled the capital: some that Saddam would make a personal appearance after weeks in hiding; others that he had been captured by U.S. forces. There was no evidence either rumor was true.

Also yesterday, the military announced the discovery of another mass grave, this one believed filled with as many as 400 Kurdish women and children supposedly executed by Saddam.

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division discovered the grave on the side of a dry riverbed in Hatra, 200 miles north of Baghdad. An assessment team was sent to the site.

Some 25 sets of remains — all women and children — have been pulled from the grave, each with a bullet hole in the skull.

Since the end of the war, dozens of mass graves have been discovered — many of them containing hundreds of bodies. The United Nations is investigating the killing or disappearance of at least 300,000 Iraqis believed murdered by Saddam’s regime.

Also yesterday, the military said U.S. troops have seized a substantial quantity of plastic explosive and other weapons during raids in Iraq.

In a series of 14 raids late Wednesday and early yesterday, the 4th Infantry Division netted more than 50 crates of C4 plastic explosive, together with 250,000 blasting caps, nearly 300 assault rifles and 500 grenades, it said. A military spokesman said he was unaware of the total weight of plastic explosive seized, but said a conservative estimate would be around 2,000 pounds.

Also yesterday, the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority announced the start of bidding to provide mobile telecommunications services in Iraq.

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