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CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — In a new audiotape — the first allegedly made by Saddam Hussein since U.S.-led forces ousted his regime — the deposed Iraqi leader urges his countrymen to fight foreign occupation.

The Sydney Morning Herald said it received the 14-minute tape from two men in Baghdad on Monday who said they were trying to get it to Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiya, two Arab satellite television channels.

There was no way to confirm if the tired-sounding voice on the tape was that of Saddam, although the accent and phrasing were akin to that of the ousted leader.

"Through this secret means I am talking to you from inside great Iraq and I say to you, the main task for you, Arab and Kurd, Shiite and Sunni, Muslim and Christian and the whole Iraqi people of all religions, your main task is to kick the enemy out from our country," the speaker said.

By way of establishing that the recording was made recently, the voice on the tape noted some Iraqis had celebrated Saddam's 66th birthday on April 28 even though he was not in power. The speaker referred to Saddam in the third person, a practice common in Arabic.

"It was an Iraqi decision (to celebrate), because they consider Saddam Hussein as a brother or as a father to them. And this is just to express of their free will that nobody forced them to do it or to live in any way against their will. It is their true attitude toward Saddam Hussein," the speaker said.

The speech is interrupted once by coughing and twice by what sounds like water being drunk, the newspaper reported.

Asked Wednesday about the tape, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said: "We don't know if the tape is genuine or not. It's being studied. We don't know if he's alive or not."

Saddam's fate is not known. He was targeted by cruise missiles March 20 in the opening salvo of the war. As U.S. troops converged on Baghdad, American jets dropped bombs on the al-Mansour neighborhood April 7 after Saddam was reportedly seen there.

Some Iraqis claimed to have seen Saddam in the Azamiyah district two days later — an appearance that was videotaped and broadcast by Abu Dhabi television. Some U.S. officials dispute the authenticity of that tape.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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