Saddam Warns Of World War If US Attacks
Mar 17, 2003
Source: The Guardian
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein warned Sunday that if Iraq is attacked, it will take the war anywhere in the world ``wherever there is sky, land or water.'' President Bush gave the United Nations one more day to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff.
Amid fears that war is imminent, U.N. weapons inspectors flew most of their helicopters out of Iraq; Germany advised its citizens to leave the country immediately and said it would shut down its embassy in Baghdad.
Residents of the Iraqi capital lined up for gasoline and snapped up canned food and bottled water. People mobbed pharmacies to buy antibiotics and tranquilizers. Workers sandbagged fighting positions outside government buildings.
With nearly 300,000 U.S. and British troops in the Persian Gulf ready to strike, Bush and the leaders of Britain and Spain at an emergency summit in the Azores Islands said the United Nations must decide by Monday to support ``the immediate and unconditional disarmament'' of Iraq.
Saddam made his own preparations, sidestepping the military chain of command to place one of his sons and three other trusted aides in charge of the defense of the nation. The decree issued late Saturday placed Iraq on a war footing.
In a meeting with military commanders Sunday, the Iraqi leader threatened a broader war if the United States attacks. "When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world." Saddam told his commanders, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.
Iraqi Vice President Naji Sabri said Iraq has long been preparing "as if war is happening in an hour". Asked whether Iraq would use suicide attacks against invading American forces, Sabri told the Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya: ``We have prepared ourselves for all kinds of war. For many months, tens of thousands have volunteered to serve as martyrdom-seekers (suicide attackers) in the battle with the American enemy. We trained them and readied them. We have prepared ourselves for street fighting and desert fighting.''
Asked to comment on the Azores summit - which joined Bush and prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain - Sabri pointed to the stiff opposition at the Security Council to Washington's bid for authorization of military action. "There is a big impasse in which the Bush-Blair policies of war ... have fallen. This impasse is causing embarrassment day after day through widespread rejection of this policy," Sabri said.
The United States has sought an ultimatum for Saddam to disarm or face war. France, Russia and Germany have urged the Security Council to set a timeline - but no ultimatum - for Baghdad to fulfill disarmament tasks set by weapons inspectors. French President Jacques Chirac proposed a 30-day time frame, though Germany objected that inspectors should have as long as they want.
Sabri said Iraq has been "hard at work" to provide responses to questions put forward by U.N. weapons inspectors. Of Chirac's proposal, he said, "If they (inspectors) are able to accomplish this in 30 days, this will be done through consultations."
On Sunday, U.N. weapons inspectors flew five of their eight helicopters to Syria and then on to Cyprus after an insurance company suspended its coverage. Germany issued a new travel warning, urging its citizens to leave Iraq "immediately." Once they left, it said, the embassy would be closed.
Other European diplomats, including those from Switzerland and Greece, were due to leave Monday, part of an expected exodus from the country's estimated 60 missions, diplomatic sources said Sunday. The Mexican government offered Sunday to help its citizens leave the Middle East - including paying for transportation costs.
Saddam's order Saturday night elevated his most loyal aides to command the country's four military regions. The move will make it more difficult for generals to defect and take their units with them since command rests in political hands.
The decree issued by the Revolutionary Command Council - Iraq's highest executive body - placed Qusai in charge of the regime's heartland - Baghdad and the president's hometown of Tikrit. Qusai has for years been in charge of the elite Republican Guard Corps and his father's own personal security.
Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid was put in charge of the key southern sector facing U.S. and British troops massed in Kuwait. Al-Majid - known by his opponents as Chemical Ali - led the 1988 campaign against rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq in which thousands of Kurds died, many in chemical attacks.
Saddam's deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was placed in command of the northern region. An area that includes the Shiite Muslim holy sites of Karbala and Najaf was placed under Mazban Khader Hadi, a member of the ruling Council.
Saddam himself retained sole authority to order the use of surface-to-surface missiles and aviation resources, the decree said. Even as it braced for conflict, the government destroyed two more of its banned Al Samoud 2 missiles, bringing the number destroyed to 70 since March 1. The United Nations ordered the missiles eliminated because they were found to exceed a 93-mile range limit.
Iraq also handed over videotapes of mobile biological weapons laboratories to inspectors. Iraq says the videos show the laboratories do not violate U.N. resolutions.
The Foreign Ministry said Iraq sent an 82-page report to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix containing results from soil samples taken from an area where Baghdad claims to have unilaterally destroyed its stocks of the chemical agent VX in 1991. The results back up Iraq's claim, the ministry said.
Iraq has invited Blix and chief nuclear inspector Mohamed El Baradei to visit Baghdad as soon as possible to settle outstanding issues. The two have yet to reply to the invitation. Inspectors also visited a technology college in the town of Karbala south of Baghdad, according to the Information Ministry.