Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in an interview reported from Baghdad yesterday that Iraq had maintained its balance in the war thus far by using only conventional weapons, but that his missiles could deliver chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
He suggested they would be used if necessary to preserve his nation.
In his first interview with a Western reporter since the war began on Jan. 17, the Iraqi president told CNN correspondent Peter Arnett that allied air superiority had failed and insisted that Iraq would win the war, although he declined to predict the length of the fight.
In a wide-ranging, 90-minute talk that Mr. Hussein initiated and that took place in a bungalow in a Baghdad suburb, the Iraqi president also blamed the United States for the huge oil spill in the Persian Gulf, skirted questions on Iraqi warplanes flown to neighboring Iran and said Iraq was justified in using allied prisoners of war as human shields.
Mr. Hussein made no explicit threat to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, but was paraphrased by Mr. Arnett as having said Iraq would use weapons "equitable" to those used by allied forces.
Asked if he meant Iraq would use such weapons only if they were used by the allies, he said he did not mean that.
The implication, according to Mr. Arnett, appeared to be that Iraq would use unconventional weapons if it found its back to the wall.
"He said, 'Let's pray that we don't go that far, that the losses aren't that great,' " Mr. Arnett said.
Mr. Arnett's report on the interview included no videotape of the Iraqi president and no audio recordings of his comments. The live report was relayed over a telephone-satellite hookup that bypassed regular telephone circuits in Iraq but was subject to censorship, as all of Mr. Arnett's recent reports have been.
Mr. Arnett, who has been the only correspondent for a major Western news organization in Baghdad since the war began, quoted the Iraqi president as saying:
"We have maintained our balance using only conventional weapons. Pray that not a lot of blood will be shed from any nation. We pray we shall not be forced into taking a forced measure."
For the first time, Mr. Hussein said the missiles Iraq has been firing at Israel and Saudi Arabia have the ability to carry chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.
Iraq is known to have developed chemical and biological weapons, but Western analysts have questioned whether Iraqi military could use their Scud missiles to deliver such weapons.
It is unclear whether Iraq has nuclear weapons. Some analysts in the West say Iraq before the war was a year or two from developing atomic warheads, and U.S. military officials have said the recent bombing has obliterated any nuclear abilities Iraq might have had.
Asked how long he believed the war would last, the Iraqi leader said, according to Mr. Arnett:
"Only God knows. Iraq will win the admiration of the world with their fighting prowess. Lots of blood will be shed, lots of blood. We are referring to blood on every side, American, French, Saudi blood and Iraqi."
On the possibility of negotiations to end the war, Mr. Arnett quoted Mr. Hussein as saying that was up to President Bush.
But then he said such a dialogue "could only come between the peoples of the lands of Iraq and in the West and elsewhere in the world."
When asked about U.S. assertions that Iraq had released millions of gallons of oil in the Persian Gulf, the Iraqi leader suggested that the United States had released the oil by attacking Iraqi tankers and oil installations.
To a question about scores of Iraqi aircraft flying to Iranian air fields, he shed no light on whether the planes were being flown by deserters or perhaps secretly sheltered by Iran, out of reach of allied warplanes.
Asked about allied prisoners of war and their use as human shields at targets of allied planes, contrary to the rules of the Geneva Convention, Mr. Hussein responded that Iraqi students were being unfairly interned in the West and that restrictions had been placed on Arabs of Iraqi descent.
"Does the Geneva Convention allow Iraqi students to be imprisoned in the West?" he asked.
Mr. Arnett said Mr. Hussein expressed annoyance at what he called "hypocritical Western politicians" who convinced him last year that he could preserve peace by releasing 5,000 hostages from Iraq.
"He said if we had kept these 5,000 hostages here, would Bush still have attacked Baghdad?" Mr. Arnett said.
The interview appeared to have been initiated by Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Arnett called it "an unexpected meeting," and said he was picked up yesterday by Iraqi security forces and told he would be taken to meet "a senior official."