Skeptical Iraqis began to accept that Saddam Hussein's sons Odai and Qusai were dead after a new audiotape attributed to the fallen dictator acknowledged his sons had become martyrs in the fight against American occupation.
During a patrol in Tikrit early Wednesday, U.S. forces came across a black flag strung up in front of a local government building. The writing mourned the passing of Odai and Qusai.
After asking his translator to read the gold and white lettering to him, U.S. Lt. Col. Steve Russell, whose 4th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion is leading the raids in Tikrit, took out his pocket knife and cut it down, crumpling it in his hands before taking it away.
Watching the broadcast of the purported Saddam audiotape in Baghdad Fahr Jihuri said ex-dictator's announcement removed any existing doubt that Odai and Qusai were dead.
"Saddam just confirmed that his sons are dead. As far as I understand him, he tries to incite people to attack Americans by telling them that his sons and grandson have died for the cause," Jihuri said.
Another Iraqi dismissed Saddam's call to arms.
"Saddam is nobody these days. He has no power, no army, no friends, what can he do now?" asked Kahtan Muhhamad.
The voice on the tape said it was made in July 2003, but the exact date was not clear. Al-Arabiya said it received the tape Tuesday. The widely watched satellite station broadcasts across the Middle East, including in Iraq.
In other developments:
In Pakistan, Geo-TV broadcast an interview with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he again raised U.S. concerns about foreign fighters among the insurgency in Iraq.
"Certainly we know that there are foreign fighters that have flowed in through Syria, and in fact, 80 of them were engaged several weeks ago in a training camp, and they were not Iraqis," Myers said.
Also Wednesday, more than 200 tribal leaders gathered in front of the house of Prince Rabiah Muhammed al-Habib, one of the country's most influential tribal leaders, to protest a U.S. raid on his home in Baghdad's al-Mansour neighborhood Sunday in search for Saddam. A nearby hospital reported five Iraqis were killed in the shooting. The American military said it was looking into the incident.
"If this will continue, then the feeling of the Iraqis will develop into hatred, and that's not healthy for the Iraqi people and for the Americans,' al-Habib said.
The American military, meanwhile, continued poring over documents and photo albums seized in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, looking for clues to the fallen dictator's whereabouts.
In the nine-minute audiotape, a voice resembling Saddam's said he was glad Odai and Qusai Hussein were killed because such a death "is the hope of every fighter."
"Even if Saddam Hussein has 100 sons other than Odai and Qusai, Saddam Hussein would offer them the same path," said the calm, even voice. "That is the hope of every fighter for God's sake, as another group of noble souls of the martyrs has ascended to their creator."
The CIA was reviewing the new message to determine if it was authentic, a U.S. intelligence official said. The speaker sounded like the voice in other recordings attributed to Saddam, with the same vocabulary and tone.
Before the Tuesday broadcast, the last audio recording attributed to Saddam was aired by Al-Arabiya on July 23, a day after his sons were reported killed in a firefight with American forces. That tape carried no mention of the sons and the speaker claimed to have made it on July 20. U.S. intelligence officials said it was probably authentic.
Another recording said to have been by Saddam was purportedly made on July 14. U.S. intelligence officials said that recording also was probably authentic and was further evidence.
The latest tape attributed to Saddam, who is believed by some in the military to moving frequently to avoid capture, is bound to deal a psychological blow to Baath Party stalwarts, experts believe.
"All of this deflates the expectation that the leadership will make a comeback," Dr. Phebe Marr, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a leading Iraq scholar, said. "However, I think (the resistance) is bigger than that ... What is at stake is a struggle for power."
Meanwhile, Iraqi media reported Wednesday that the former president of Baghdad University, Mohammed al-Rawi, had been killed Sunday by two men who stormed into the office where he conducted a private medical practice. Al-Rawi had been a leading member of Saddam's Baath Party and resigned his university post after Baghdad fell April 9. His killing was seen as one in a series of revenge attacks against high-level Baathists.
U.S. forces on Tuesday interrogated 12 suspects arrested in Tikrit and examined identity cards, bound notebooks, Baath Party records and other documents found in their homes to try to fill in the picture of Saddam's desperate flight.
In Baghdad, Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council of 25 prominent Iraqis appointed a nine-member presidency, failing to agree on a single leader for the beginnings of a new Iraqi government.