Saddam stays defiant, as US war plans advance

19 July 2002

President Saddam Hussein used the 17 July anniversary of the 1968 coup that brought the Baath party to power in Baghdad to issue a defiant rallying call to the nation, vowing to defeat US plans to overthrow his regime by force. His televised speech came after US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz had discussed military options with Turkish officials in Ankara, and followed a 12 July gathering of some 70 prominent Iraqi exiles in London who discussed ways to bring about Saddam Hussein's downfall.

The Iraq's leader's 40-minute televised speech was filled with stirring rhetoric, but omitted any mention of Iraq's talks with the UN about the issues of lifting sanctions and readmitting weapons inspectors. Iraq has submitted a list of questions to the UN focusing on what measures would be taken to remove sanctions should Iraq let the inspectors back in.

The US has made clear that it will press ahead with its plans to bring down the Iraqi regime whether the inspectors return or not. The Bush administration has also indicated that it does not require UN Security Council approval for military action against Iraq, and that it is also entitled to proceed with an attack on Iraq without securing congressional backing.

After three days of his talks with Turkish defence officials, Wolfowitz said on 16 July: 'The current regime in Iraq is a serious danger to the US and other countries. But the president has not made the hard decisions about what course to take.' He also made clear that he had assured Turkish officials that the US was utterly opposed to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Ankara has expressed concern lest the collapse of the Baghdad regime should encourage Iraqi Kurds to set up a state, which would risk destabilising Kurdish-populated areas in eastern Turkey.

Wolfowitz arrived in Ankara amid a fresh political crisis, as several ministers have pulled out of the government headed by the ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Elections are scheduled to take place on 3 November. Whatever government is formed after that date is expected to co-operate with US military plans for Iraq. However, Turkish officials are reported have expressed scepticism about the enterprise, particularly given the lack of clarity about what regime would follow the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

'We would like to see an Iraq that's democratic,' Wolfowitz said. 'The details of how that happens is not so simple. It's a very complex subject.'

US vice-president Dick Cheney attended the London meeting of Iraqi exiles as an observer. The meeting, dominated by former military officers, was aimed at sending a message to officers inside Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein in the event of a coup attempt or an American invasion.

Also present at the meeting was former Jordanian crown prince Hassan bin Talal, who said he was there strictly in a personal capacity. The Jordanian government has strongly denied suggestions that Jordan might provide military support facilities for the anti-Iraq operation.

Kuwait, another Iraqi neighbour expected to play a key role in any such operation, has made clear that it wants UN cover. 'Kuwait does not support threats to hit Iraq,' said Defence Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Hamad al-Sabah on 18 July. 'Our acceptance for this matter is conditional on an international blanket decision within the global organisation.'

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