BAGHDAD, Iraq -- President Saddam Hussein appeared in a nationwide television broadcast yesterday and urged his nation to resist the "evil" American forces, while Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz gave notice that international weapons inspectors would not be allowed back into the country if economic sanctions remain in force.
Lifting of the sanctions, first imposed by the United Nations after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, has since been dependent on proof that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed.
Both men spoke several hours before the U.S.-led missile launches struck Baghdad for the third day in a row with waves of attacks this morning.
The barrage filled the night sky with fireballs. Answering anti-aircraft fire rose like swarms of red fireflies. Explosions shook the city. Plumes of flame dotted the horizon.
Earlier, Hussein, appearing on nationwide television for the first time since the United States and Britain began bombing his country Thursday morning local time, was seated beside an Iraqi flag and wearing a military uniform. The statement was aired by the Qatar television network, Al-Jazira.
"We are not frightened of anyone other than God. We are not going to bow, except to his sacred face," Hussein said in a calm voice.
"You must thank God for your success. Continue resistance. Continue resistance," he exhorted his nation of 20 million people. "We are the people of moral right. We are not going to compromise and be on the side of evil at the expense of being right."
The address aired as Aziz met with foreign journalists and denounced the bombing campaign even as air-raid sirens wailed in the background.
Aziz characterized the airstrikes as "criminal aggression" against Iraq, the Arab world and Muslims. He attributed the timing of the bombardment to the "failure" of President Clinton's recent peacekeeping mission to the Middle East and "another subject I don't want to talk about," alluding to the impeachment proceedings.
But he did talk about it, attacking Clinton's credibility and accusing him of deceiving Americans about the aim of the operation.
He described Clinton as a man "who has lied to the American nation, to the American Congress, to the people who work for him."
"The real objective of this aggression is to show that the United States is the sole superpower in this world to show the United States is ready to impose its will onto the whole world according to its greediness," Aziz said.
In his first public appearance since the start of the strikes, Aziz also repudiated the report this week of U.N. weapons inspection chief Richard Butler that said Iraq was not meeting agreed-to conditions.
He said it was a "pretext" for the missile strike. Last month, Iraq averted within minutes the start of airstrikes by agreeing to comply with the U.N.-sponsored inspections and allow the monitors to return.
Clinton put Hussein on notice then that if the Iraqi president failed to live up to the agreement, the United States and its allies would strike without warning.
In explaining the U.S. strikes against Iraq, Clinton conceded that the campaign might preclude the return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq.
Last night, Aziz said Iraq would not accept both the sanctions that have crippled the economy for eight years and the 4-year-old inspections program.
"If they want to continue the sanctions, let them keep UNSCOM [the U.N. Special Commission] in New York," Aziz said. "When the sanctions are lifted, we can accommodate the work of the United Nations correctly and honestly. We cannot tolerate sanctions and UNSCOM at the same time."
Aziz also scoffed at the U.S. and British contention that they began the strikes so swiftly out of concern for the impending Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Iraqi television announced yesterday that the monthlong holiday would begin at dawn today. The period of prayer and fasting coincides with sighting of the new moon.
"How do we expect a Zionist like Clinton, a Zionist like [Tony] Blair [the British prime minister] to respect the holy month of Ramadan? These two liars cannot mock the Arab world, fool the Arab world. The reality is the resources they could assemble for this aggression are limited," Aziz said.
Aziz, who is a Christian, accused the "Zionist clique" surrounding Clinton of advising the president to strike Iraq. He referred specifically to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Secretary State Madeleine K. Albright and National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, all of whom have some Jewish ancestry.
The targets of the airstrikes, said Aziz, showed the duplicity of the Clinton administration. The barrage of cruise missiles that has fallen on Baghdad and its environs during the past two FTC nights has hit at least four sites in which U.N. inspections cameras were positioned, a building of the security police, the house of Hussein's daughter and a government warehouse in Tikrit, the president's hometown, said Aziz.