Syria-based Saddam loyalists blast US 'occupation' of Iraq, vow to continue resistance

DAMASCUS (AP) — Supporters of Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein gathered in Damascus Thursday to denounce the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq and demand that his loyalists unite.

About 500 Saddam loyalists, including members of his outlawed Baath Party, vowed to continue their support to what they called "Iraqi national resistance," a term they widely use to describe Iraqi insurgents attacking only U.S. forces.

The gathering at a meeting hall owned by Syria's culture ministry also was organized to mark the occasion of Saddam's birthday, which is April 28.

Addressing the gathering, Ghazwan al-Qubaisi, a senior Baath official, hailed Saddam as a "martyr" amid cheers from some of the participants who shouted "Saddam is a hero."

Al-Qubaisi also called on Baath party members who split into two main factions following the collapse of Saddam's regime in 2003 to reunite.

Iraq's government has repeatedly accused neighboring Syria of harboring Saddam loyalists it blames for planning and financing major bombings in Iraq since August. It says al-Qaida in Iraq carried out the attacks.

Baghdad has also been pressing Damascus to hand over former Baath officials it claims are involved in the insurgency wracking the country since 2003.

Insurgent attacks have dramatically declined in Iraq since 2008, but they continue to take place across the country, particularly in the capital Baghdad.