Baghdad radio finds signs of victory in defeat WAR IN THE GULF

March 01, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

AMMAN, Jordan -- Baghdad radio declared yesterday that the Iraqi regime was "happy for the halt in fighting, which will save the blood of our sons," and it insisted that "the mother of battles" had ended after a "great showdown."

But, amid occasional gun bursts of celebration and relief throughout the Iraqi capital, at no point did President Saddam Hussein tell his 18 million people of their tens of thousands of dead and captured countrymen from a lightning battle that, in reality, had left their nation's army and economy all but shattered.

In fact, his military spokesman asserted that Iraq's Republican Guard had driven all allied forces back beyond Iraq's southern border before the fighting stopped, and it condemned the United States for continuing to violate Iraqi airspace through overflights.

Exhorting Iraqis to relish their "victory," the regime's announcer declared: "The [Republican] Guards have broken the backbone of their aggressors and thrown them beyond the borders. Let us celebrate the epic of the brave Republican Guard, who protected Iraq and preserved its great power."

In a later commentary that appeared to telegraph future justifications for Iraq's heavy losses, the military spokesman stated, "Victory is not how many tanks or planes we or the enemy used. . . . Victory is the face that you acquire in the history books."

And Mr. Hussein used his remaining tools of propaganda and public image building, among them his ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party newspaper, al-Thawra, to lay the groundwork for putting the best possible historic face on his failed experiment in Kuwait.

"Iraq's power remains intact," the newspaper declared in a front-page editorial. It concluded that Mr. Hussein deserved praise for what it called "a great Arab achievement."

On its evening news program, Baghdad radio reported that Mr. Hussein had, indeed, received a telegram of praise from a group it identified as the Saudi National Liberation Front. And several times during the day, the broadcasts reported that a death ship carrying the bodies of 220 U.S. servicemen killed during the war had landed in Valencia, Spain.

The broadcasts were a clear sign that Mr. Hussein is endeavoring to show that he retains full control over his ruling clique and his party, observers said.

"He's now making his case to his people, to prepare them for the battlefield reports they're bound to hear when the bodies and prisoners start coming back," said a Western diplomat who was based in Baghdad until late last year. "But more importantly, he's telling his people he's still in charge, which means they better accept his version of events or else."

The "or else" was a clear reference to Mr. Hussein's extensive, Draconian, party-based internal security apparatus, the Mukhabarat. The nationwide network of largely civilian agents is under Mr. Hussein's direct command and has been fiercely loyal to him, a loyalty reinforced by frequent executions.

Western journalists visiting Baghdad, who usually are accompanied by government guides and can file dispatches only under Iraqi censorship, have said privately that the Mukhabarat structure appears to be intact throughout the Iraqi capital.

[Meanwhile, in Damascus, Syria, an emigre Iraqi opposition leader said yesterday that Mr. Hussein should be overthrown for the "shame and destruction" of a war that he said killed or wounded 250,000 Iraqis, Reuters reported.

[Ayatollah Taqi al Mudarresi said Iraqis would discover that Mr. Hussein's dictatorship had brought humiliation to the state.

[Ayatollah Mudarresi, of the Islamic Action Group, told Reuters that the world should distinguish between President Hussein and the Iraqi people, who should not be punished for "Saddam's crimes."

[His call came a few days before a conference in Lebanon of all Iraqi opposition groups to discuss Iraq's future after the Persian Gulf war.]

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