Baker talks tough to U.S. troops Hussein foresees 'showdown' Iraqi president welcomes clash of 'infidels, believers'

January 12, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein welcomed a "showdown" with U.S. forces in a saber-rattling speech on the day before he is to receive a United Nations appeal for peace.

The Iraqi president mocked "American women in shorts" among the soldiers and described the looming conflict as a holy struggle between "infidels and believers."

His speech yesterday added to the pessimism among those diplomats still here about the chances of success of today's visit by Javier Perez de Cuellar, the United Nations secretary-general.

"Iraq had decided to stay in Kuwait," a European diplomat concluded. "There must be a very drastic change for there to be any peace. And I don't see it now."

Mr. Perez de Cuellar has reiterated that Iraq must agree to leave Kuwait in order to reach a negotiated agreement before Tuesday's deadline. President Hussein's speech was unyielding.

He acknowledged the technological superiority of the weaponry pitted against his forces, but he said Iraq would win "relying on a soldier with a rifle and a grenade."

There are "thousands of tanks and millions of people" in underground, reinforced positions in the desert, and "our soldiers will rise up from the underground," he said.

He said Iraq had weapons that could shoot down U.S. aircraft before they were in target range. And he predicted that U.S. tactics would include attempts to jam Iraqi communication, but "for one year our army has been drilling to be able to fight even when communications are shut off."

His soldiers "will leave the Americans to be devoured by wolves," Mr. Hussein said.

The speech came in an unscheduled appearance before the Islamic Conference in Baghdad, an international meeting of Muslim clerics and representatives of Muslim nations. They interrupted his talk several times with shouts of praise.

Also yesterday, the state-controlled press offered a lengthy rebuttal by Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to the position offered by Secretary of State James A. Baker III in their Geneva talks.

The harsh public statements seemed to reaffirm the decision to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad even as Mr. Perez de Cuellar arrives. The senior U.S. diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson, is scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. today on a Boeing 727 chartered from Iraqi Airways.

Along with Mr. Wilson will be the five other remaining U.S. Embassy staff members. He offered space on the plane to journalists who wished to leave.

The embassy is not officially closed but is being "temporarily" vacated, Mr. Wilson said.

By Monday, there may be only a few Western embassies staffed in Baghdad. The Swiss and Austrian staffs may stay, and the French have not yet declared their plans.

President Hussein portrayed an imminent conflict in the Persian Gulf as a religious war and claimed God for his side.

"The showdown is between infidels and believers, between the true and untrue, between the good people and the evil," he said. "Victory is close, with the will of God. [Our] faith can never be shaken even if they massed double and triple as many troops as are now massed."

He repeated his contention that the conflict would be one over Palestine and predicted that "Palestine will be returned to the people."

President Bush has refused to negotiate Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in connection with negotiations over the future of Palestinian lands occupied by Israel.

"The armies have come with women to defend [Saudi King] Fahd. . . . The banner of fighting should be carried by men. This is a rule since the creation of mankind. . . . It is men who should fight, not women.

"Fahd should . . . not ask American women in shorts to come to defend the people of Saudi Arabia."

He contended that "the 28 nations massed against us [are] based on evil . . . and have deployed 14 divisions against our 60 divisions and more." Most analysts say the troop strengths of the opposing armies give Iraq only a slight numerical advantage.

"They will play some acrobatics, or 'Rambo' as in the films," and will try to attack in different places to create confusion, Mr. Hussein predicted. "This might happen to people who have no experience in war," but not to his experienced officers, he said.

"They will try to locate our headquarters and interrupt our communication," he said. "The soldier can work without a link to base. The pilot can carry out his duty, day or night, without communication to his base."

He predicted that high-tech weaponry would be useless in the desert warfare and that in soldier-to-soldier combat, his troops would win.

President Hussein ended his speech, "Peace be upon you."

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