Saddam: Iraq Ready for War With U.S.
Jan. 18, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Brushing aside any hint of compromise, Saddam Hussein proclaimed Friday that Iraq is ready for war with the United States and warned that his enemies would face ``suicide'' at the gates of Baghdad.
Saddam's strong words added to an atmosphere of urgency that followed the discovery Thursday of 12 empty chemical warheads in Iraq _ a find described by U.S. officials as ``troubling and serious.''
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer charged that Iraq hadn't reported the warheads, but he stopped short of declaring them a violation of U.N. resolutions.
He dismissed Baghdad's claims that it had previously reported the rockets and said they were not listed in Iraq's 12,000-page declaration, in which it was required to account for all components of its banned weapons programs. ``The burden is on them to show the world what page its on,'' Fleischer said.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said evidence suggests at least 11 of the warheads were never loaded with any chemical agent. Whether the 12th _ which was taken for tests by U.N. inspectors _ had ever contained any chemical agent was unknown.
As U.N. inspectors played down the importance of the find, French President Jacques Chirac, whose country holds veto power at the United Nations, backed the inspectors' appeal for more time to carry out their search.
Despite growing U.S. impatience with Saddam, the top nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said it would be worth ``a few more months'' to avoid war.
With a second Gulf War looming, a defiant Saddam used the 12th anniversary of the first conflict to tell the world he would defend Baghdad against the United States _ despite reports that Arab leaders were trying to persuade him to choose exile instead.
In a 40-minute televised address, Saddam said his nation was fully mobilized and called on Iraqis to ``hold your swords and guns up high'' as a warning to those ``who might be under the illusion'' that Iraq ``will not stand firm.''
``The people of Baghdad have resolved to compel the Mongols of this age to commit suicide on its walls,'' Saddam said, comparing the Americans with the Asian warriors who destroyed the city more than 800 years ago. ``Everyone who tries to climb over its walls ... will fail in his attempt.''
Without using President Bush's name, Saddam compared him to the Mongol general Hologu, son of Genghis Khan, who captured Baghdad in 1258.
Baghdad's ruler at the time surrendered in exchange for his life and that of his family _ but Hologu reneged on the deal and executed him.
The spirit of Hologu has returned to possess some, Saddam said Friday, and ``the Hologu army of this age has come to fight Baghdad ... but the new Hologu will never control Baghdad or the great Iraq.''
The United States and Britain are marshaling a large military force in the Persian Gulf to back up their warnings against Saddam to give up weapons of mass destruction or face attack. Iraq claims it has no such weapons.
Amid fears that war could start in weeks, protesters in the United States were planning a large rally in Washington and vigils in other U.S. cities over the weekend. Anti-war rallies also were planned in Europe, Canada and Asia.
Some 200 members of the Iraqi journalists' union protested outside the inspectors' hotel Friday, but the U.N. teams were not impeded in their day's inspections. They visited military industry sites in the Faluga area west of Baghdad, a farm near Juwesma, southwest of the capital, and a farm and ice factory 30 miles outside Baghdad, the inspectors said.
A U.N. team searching bunkers Thursday in southern Iraq found 12 empty rocket warheads that could be used to carry chemical agents. Iraq claims the warheads are old and had been reported to the United Nations.
Fleischer said the weapons were not in Iraq's arms declaration. ``The fact that Iraq is in possession of undeclared chemical warheads ... is troubling and serious.''
Iraq has declared it once possessed more than 100,000 chemical warheads and other special munitions and that most were destroyed during the previous inspections regime in the 1990s.
In December, Iraq submitted to the United Nations its weapons declaration, which it said proved that it was free of banned weapons. Chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and ElBaradei, due in Baghdad for talks Sunday and Monday, say the declaration is incomplete.
Blix said he was unsure if Iraq had declared the warheads but that he was not worried that Washington would use them as a pretext for attack.
``There are no chemical weapons inside them. However, clearly they were designed to carry chemical weapons,'' he said.
War ``is the worst case scenario,'' ElBaradei said. ``If we can avoid that, even spending a few more months to complete our job, that is time well spent.''
Chirac, meeting with Blix and ElBaradei in Paris, said ``it is only wise'' to agree to the inspectors' request.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said Friday his country _ which joined the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 1 and chairs it in February _ is unlikely to back any U.N. resolution to authorize war. ``A 'yes' is basically not imaginable anymore,'' Struck told the Rheinpfalz newspaper.
In his speech, Saddam made repeated references to the defense of Baghdad, suggesting that if attacked, he plans to rally his troops around the capital to inflict as many casualties as possible on U.S. forces.
On Jan. 17, 1991, a U.S.-led coalition launched air attacks against Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, opening Operation Desert Storm, which drove Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait.
Saddam has depicted the events of 1991 as a victory because Iraq stood up to a superpower and his regime survived.
As Saddam finished his speech, several thousand Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad to voice support for the president.