A group claiming to be an Iraqi branch of the al-Qaeda terror network said it -- and not Saddam Hussein -- is behind the armed resistance against US forces in postwar Iraq, according to a tape aired on an Arab TV station on Sunday.
Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite station aired a 4-minute video tape showing a black-and-white still photograph of a man dressed like an Islamic cleric with a message read over the top by a distorted male's voice.
The identity of the man in the photograph was not immediately clear. An executive from the station contacted by reporters had no details on the man.
The voice on the tape, which was delivered recently to the station's Baghdad office, described himself as a member of the "Islamic Armed Group of al-Qaeda, Fallujah branch." There was no way to immediately verify the tape's authenticity.
The voice on the tape denied that Iraq's deposed president was connected to the continuing Iraqi resistance against the presence of US-led forces in Iraq, saying his group was behind the series of fatal attacks.
"We warn the American forces to leave Iraq's territories and to live up to their promises," the voice said.
"I call on the Iraqi people not to believe what the toppled leader said," the voice added, while urging Iraqis not to follow their "emotions."
"By God, not one of [Saddam's] followers carried out any of the jihadi [holy war] operations like he claims. But it was a success granted by God and [carried out] by our mujahidin brothers."
The airing of the tape comes as US forces launched their latest sweep in cities and towns of central Iraq, hunting for Saddam loyalists amid expectations of anti-US attacks to mark a number of Baathist holidays this week. In Washington, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned attacks on US troops may worsen this summer.
The voice on the tape said: "The coming days ... will show you the strike that will break America's back. We pray to God for victory, and for him to help our brothers spread in all the Iraqi provinces and in the world, like [Osama] bin Laden and [leader of Afghanistan's former Taliban government] Mullah Omar."
The claim is the first by an purported Iraqi group linking itself to al-Qaeda -- the group blamed for the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Last month, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite station aired a tape reportedly released by an Iraqi group claiming responsibility for resistance operations in Iraq. The group called itself the Mujahidin of the Victorious Sect.
Before the war in Iraq, the Bush administration alleged that Saddam was harboring top al-Qaeda operatives and suggested Iraq could slip the terrorist network chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.
A UN terrorism committee has said it has no evidence of any ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Former White House officials have also downplayed such links.