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Iraq: U.S. Troops Intensify Hunt For Hussein After Taped Message Surfaces

After the deaths of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's sons, a new tape, allegedly of Hussein, has vowed vengeance on the United States. U.S. officials, meanwhile, have said that they are getting closer to finding Hussein himself.

Prague, 30 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. forces are searching for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in villages near his hometown of Tikrit today following the broadcast of a new audio tape -- purportedly from Hussein -- that vows vengeance for the killing of his sons.

The tape was aired yesterday by Dubai-based Al Arabiya television. The voice on the recording says Uday and Qusay Hussein died as martyrs in a holy war that will defeat the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq.

"[I mourn] to you the deaths of your brothers Uday and Qusay and Mustafa, Qusay's son. [They died] as believers -- as God wanted them to be -- which makes our friends happy and the enemy jealous in the land of the jihad in Um Rimah, in Mosul," the voice on the tape said.

In addition to acknowledging the deaths of Hussein's sons, the voice on the tape also mentions specific details about the assault by U.S. troops and Iraqi police.

"[They died] after fierce fighting with the enemy for six hours. The enemy could not kill them -- only after they began using their aircraft on the house which they were in. They stood up with God's honor. God has honored us with their martyrdom, and we ask God to treat them well along with the other martyrs after they stood up in the jihad," the voice said.

The speech has been described as rambling and breaking off in mid-sentence on occasion. But Iraqis who have heard the tape tell correspondents in Baghdad they are convinced the voice is that of Hussein.

In the last few weeks, four other audio tapes allegedly containing the voice of Hussein have been broadcast. U.S. officials say the CIA has concluded that at least one of them was genuine.

Uday and Qusay died last week when U.S. troops attacked a villa in Mosul. The brothers were killed after a six-hour standoff in which U.S. troops fired 10 antitank TOW missiles. Two others -- thought to be Uday's bodyguard and Qusay's teenage son Mustafa -- also died.

Washington has promised to pay $30 million to the Iraqi man who provided information to U.S. forces about the brothers' whereabouts. The United States had offered a reward of $15 million for information on each of Hussein's sons.

U.S. officers say many more Iraqis have been coming forward with information about Hussein since the deaths of Uday and Qusay. But there are still signs of sympathy and support for the ousted regime in the area north and west of Baghdad, known as the "Sunni triangle."

Early today, during an overnight patrol in Tikrit, U.S. soldiers came across a black flag strung up in front of a local government building on which was written a message mourning the deaths of Uday and Qusay.

Yesterday, U.S. raids in Tikrit resulted in the capture of three key figures loyal to the former Iraqi leader -- including one of Hussein's top bodyguards. U.S. officials say they think they are getting close to finding Hussein himself.

The U.S. Army blames Hussein loyalists for many of the recent attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. Some senior U.S. military officials had said they hoped the killing of Uday and Qusay would demoralize anti-American guerrillas. But 11 U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks since the deaths of Uday and Qusay were reported. And the voice on yesterday's audio tape pledged to carry on with attacks against U.S. troops.

Officials in Washington now say they hope that finding Hussein will help end the guerrilla campaign, which has killed 50 U.S. soldiers since U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat operations over on 1 May.

The United States is offering a $25 million reward for proof of Hussein's death or information leading to his arrest.