AMMAN, Jordan -- Iraq threatened yesterday to prevent the airlift home of Soviet nationals if the Kremlin disclosed military secrets to U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in Moscow next week.
The Soviet Union was one of Iraq's major arms suppliers and closest allies before the Persian Gulf crisis.
Moscow could pass on to the United States vital information to improve the defenses of the multinational force in Saudi Arabia against Iraq's most sophisticated weaponry.
The official Iraqi News Agency said the Soviets possessed "serious secrets" about Iraq's military capability, which includes a chemical arsenal and missile technology.
The Iraqis also possess fuel-air explosives with the power of small nuclear weapons, and President Saddam Hussein announced this week possession of a new missile capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from its launching pad. Its range would include Israel and the U.S.-led force in Saudi Arabia.
Warning Moscow, an Iraqi military spokesman was quoted by INA as saying: "If the Soviet Union gave the United States the information it was seeking, we would be forced, unfortunately, to act in a way that protects our national security.
"Among those measures could be ordering the responsible officials to halt the departure of Soviet nationals."
About 5,000 Soviets are believed to be in Iraq, many of them oil technicians, but also about 150 military advisers. The Soviet Union has been under pressure from the anti-Iraq coalition to withdraw its personnel, particularly the military advisers.
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev sent special envoy Yevgeny M. Primakov to Baghdad last week for talks with Mr. Hussein on the gulf crisis and the orderly evacuation of the Soviet nationals.
Earlier, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze had said Soviet citizens in Iraq were experiencing unspecified difficulties.
Immediately after Mr. Primakov's visit, more than 100 Soviets were flown home in what was reported to be the agreed beginning of a major repatriation operation.
The Soviets have been seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis and other regional problems, supporting the trade embargo against Iraq. But they have stopped short of joining the multinational force while acknowledging that a military solution may be necessary.
President Hussein said yesterday that he would hold Western leaders, particularly President Bush, responsible for the deaths of any Iraqi children because of shortages of food or medicine.
In a broadcast to mark Child's Day in Iraq, he said: "Those who shed crocodile tears on World Children's Day [at the United Nations] for children dying in the world are themselves and their regimes responsible for these tragedies.
"Today they are to blame for the tragedy of any Iraqi child who dies from the shortage of food and medicine caused by their unjust blockade."
He accused the nations in the multinational force of spending more than $20 billion on "the armies of invasion and other armies which came to the land of Nejd and Hejaz [Saudi Arabia] and the Arab Gulf."
Linking the gulf crisis to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he said the West was responsible for "the oppression and crimes against the children of Palestine in particular."