- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

Saddam Hussein is “most likely” the speaker on an audiotape aired Friday on the Arab television network Al Jazeera, the CIA said yesterday after analyzing the tape, whose poor quality made it impossible to link to the Iraqi leader with certainty.

“The CIA’s assessment, after a technical analysis of the tape, is that it is most likely his voice,” a CIA spokesman said in a statement yesterday. “The exact date of the recording cannot be determined.”

The speaker claiming to be Saddam says the tape was recorded on June 14 and that he is in Iraq where “jihad cells and brigades have been formed” to fight against the U.S. occupation. He urges Iraqis to support resistance to U.S. forces.

“What they called the weapons of mass destruction was nothing but a cover for their plans,” the speaker says. “I ask the invaders: Where are these weapons of mass destruction?”

One U.S. intelligence official said there was significant background noise on the tape and it may have been recorded “many months” ago.

The tape, broadcast by the Arabic-language satellite-television network one day after the United States announced a $25 million reward for Saddam’s capture or confirmation of his death, has increased suspicion that the toppled dictator lives.

Several lawmakers appeared on television programs over the weekend, speculating seriously on the topic. The odds in favor of Saddam being alive are “about 70-30 according to the intelligence sources we have,” Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

While reports of Saddam sightings trickle regularly through the news, it was on April 9 — the day Baghdad fell to U.S. Marines — that the last videotape of the toppled leader surfaced, showing him in a crowd, greeting supporters in the Iraqi capital.

U.S. military officials dismissed assertions last month by Ahmed Chalabi, head of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, that reliable sources inside Iraq had seen Saddam alive.

Mr. Chalabi said that during the opening day of the war, a double agent tipped the Bush administration on Saddam’s whereabouts, then told Saddam of the imminent U.S. ‘decapitation’ strike, allowing him to escape death. Mr. Chalabi said Saddam also escaped a second U.S. attempt to kill him, a restaurant bombing in Baghdad on April 8.

White House officials said the latest audiotape might energize anti-U.S. forces in Iraq, a sentiment which appeared to ring true over the weekend as scattered violence left three U.S. soldiers dead in Baghdad.

In one incident, a U.S. civil-affairs soldier was shot in the neck at Baghdad University, prompting the Army’s 1st Armored Division tighten security where troops previously interacted peacefully with Iraqi students.

Al Jazeera Editor Ibrahim Hilal told the Associated Press that the tape came in by telephone last week, but the network did not know the caller.

The tape’s speaker said he remains in Iraq “among my people” along with a small group of “companions.”

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