SYDNEY – An audiotape found in Baghdad is thought to contain a speech recorded last week by Saddam Hussein calling on Iraqis to wage a "secret" war against occupying coalition forces.
The Sydney Morning Herald (search) said it was handed the tape Monday after those in possession of it failed to relay it to Arabic cable news network Al Jazeera.
The Morning Herald said the tape would be available to U.S. authorities and Al Jazeera (search) on Wednesday.
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."
According to the paper, the tape was played for an Australian linguistics expert and more than a dozen Iraqis. The general consensus was that the "voice and rhetoric were very similar, or identical," to that of Saddam.
"Certainly it's him," said a judge from a Baghdad criminal court, who asked not to be named. "I am 100 percent certain. I deal with physical evidence all the time."
Su'ad Jasim, a native of Tikrit (search), Saddam's hometown, clearly recognized the accent as that of her own area.
The tape is a 15-minute monologue, with Saddam's voice sounding quite tired. The fallen leader's speech, interspersed with coughs, calls on his Iraqis to "face the invaders and kick them out from Iraq."
"It sounds as if we have to go back to the secret style of struggle that we began our life with," the voice said, according to the Morning Herald's translation.
"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, Shia and Sunni, Muslim and Christian and the whole Iraqi people of all religions, your main task is to kick the enemy out of the country."
Two men handed over the tape to the Morning Herald reporters outside the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. Most foreign journalists in Baghdad have been staying in the hotel.
The men apparently wanted to enter the hotel to find reporters from Al Jazeera, but were scared off by the sight of U.S. armed guards around the building, according to the Morning Herald.
"I got it by luck more than anything else," Morning Herald reporter Ed O'Loughlin told Fox News on Wednesday. "They handed this tape to me and drove away."
O'Loughlin and his interpreter got into their car and drove around listening to the cassette tape.
"It became very clear that if it was who it purported to be that we had a very good story," O'Loughlin said.
The Morning Herald's translator said the two men spoke with Tikriti accents and that they claimed Saddam had made the speech that morning and wanted it broadcast to all Iraqis.
The voice refers several times to the occupation of Iraq by foreign forces, to Saddam's April 28 birthday and accuses the U.S. army of looting the Iraqi National Museum.
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 apparently urges Iraqis to reject any new leaders "working with the foreigners" and to rise against the occupying powers by "not buying anything from them, or by shooting them with rifles and trying to destroy their cannons and tanks."
Morning Herald acting foreign editor Connie Levett said that a linguist was "70 to 80 percent sure" it was Saddam's voice.
"So there's very strong anecdotal evidence to support the claim and the linguist is also fairly sure," Levett told Reuters Television.
"There were a number of people saying it was him," O'Loughlin agreed.
"To me he sounded tired," he added, saying that listeners who spoke Arabic said the speaker sounded "like a guy who wasn't in charge."
"I don't think anyone is particularly impressed with what Saddam purportedly said on the tape. He doesn't have that much support," O'Loughlin said.
"Saddam only really enjoyed power when he sounded strong."
One U.S. official said Tuesday that he could not confirm whether the voice on the tape was Saddam's or when the tape was made.
Several recordings have come to light in recent weeks purporting to portray Saddam's voice or image.
In a video that surfaced earlier this month, the former Iraqi leader appears exhausted, at times confused and seemingly resigned to defeat, but he tells Iraqis that God will help them expel the coalition occupiers. The tape supposedly was made April 9.
Around that time, Abu Dhabi television also broadcast a videotape, said to have been made on April 9, showing Saddam in the middle of an enthusiastic crowd in the Azamiyah district of Baghdad.
A purported letter from Saddam published April 30 in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi urges Iraqis to "rise up" against occupation.
Reporters familiar with other documents attributed to Saddam said neither the handwriting nor the signature appeared to be his.
U.S. intelligence and Bush administration officials have always remained skeptical of the videos.
There has been no conclusive evidence so far to determine whether Saddam is dead or alive. Massive bomb strikes were conducted twice on buildings he was thought to be occupying.
On the first night of the war, March 19, U.S. planes bombed a complex where Saddam and his sons were thought to have been meeting with other regime leaders.
On April 7, a B-1B bomber led a bombing strike on a house and restaurant where Saddam was thought to be in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. U.S. experts have supposedly been conducting DNA tests on bodies found in the wreckage to determine whether Saddam died.
Residents of an area in northern Baghdad, around the Adhamiya mosque, said Saddam appeared there two days after the Mansour raid.
The BBC reported Tuesday that many senior British officials, as well as many Middle East analysts, believe the former dictator did survive the attacks and is probably still inside Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.