Saddam Heralds ‘New Phase’ of Pluralism in Iraq; No Mention of U.N. Deadline
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ In his first speech in four months, President Saddam Hussein today called on the Iraqi people to put past differences behind and enter a new era of political pluralism.
In a televised speech marking the 23rd anniversary of the rise to power of his Arab Baath Socialist Party, Saddam also accused allied powers of trying to undermine his rule by continuing economic sanctions against Iraq.
″Pluralism will be the main pillar in the next new phase,″ Saddam said.
″I urge all nationalist Iraqis from all intellectual and political trends who are concerned with Iraq’s sovereignty, unity and independence to turn a new page and forget the differences and contradictions of the past,″ he said.
However, the liberalization Saddam is promising is expected to be limited, with competing parties barred from participation in the military command and security apparatus that Saddam has tightly controlled.
Saddam made no mention in the 45-minute speech of a July 25 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for Iraq to cooperate fully on disclosure of its nuclear resources or face the threat of a new allied attack.
The Iraqi leader appeared unsmiling and dressed in a dark blue civilian suit, seated in front of a floral display and with an Iraqi flag at his side.
Saddam noted that legislation authorizing multiple political parties has been passed by the National Assembly. He said it would soon become law ″and we will soon start to apply the principles of pluralism in a broad manner.″
The political parties law was passed by the assembly on July 4 but has not been ratified by the ruling Revolutionary Command Council headed by Saddam.
The Iraqi leader called on Iraqis to work together for post-war reconstruction of the country ″under the banner of nationalist and pan-Arab nationalist goals.″
It was Saddam’s first public address since March 16, when he promised democratic reforms to appease rebels who sought to unseat him after his Persian Gulf War defeats. Saddam’s army crushed postwar uprisings in the north by Kurds and in the south by Shiite Muslims.
Last year, Saddam’s speech on the occasion of the July 17 coup that brought his party to power marked the start of his campaign against Kuwait. He accused the emirate of stealing Iraqi oil and plotting to sabotage Iraq’s economy.
Two weeks later, Iraq’s army invaded Kuwait, touching off the international confrontation that led to war.
This year, Saddam lauded the achievements of the Baath party and accused the allies of trying to sabotage its accomplishments.
The generation of the Baathist revolution, the president said, had transformed a poor and backward Iraq into a new, confident and cultured country.
Saddam said Iraq was paying the price of a century of Arab weakness, backwardness and disunity. He accused the allies of aiming to destroy the Iraqi people, the Iraqi army and the country’s aspirations for development.
″At the time, they linked the embargo to withdrawal from Kuwait, but they have insisted on continuing the embargo to this day,″ Saddam said. ″They are always finding reasons to postpone the lifting of the sanctions.″
There had been hopes that the government would announce on the occasion of Revolution Day an agreement with Kurdish leaders, granting the rebellious population of 3.5 million Kurds autonomy in northern provinces.
Kurdish leaders were still in Baghdad negotiating, and there were no signs that an accord was imminent.
One of the main preconditions set by the government in the autonomy talks had been that the Kurds sever their relations with foreign powers, recognize the ″achievements of the Baathist revolution, and fight its opponents.″
Kurdish leaders view this as unacceptable.