Baghdad, Oct. 6 (Reuters): Iraq today dismissed threats of US military action, vowing to teach attackers an “unprecedented” lesson.
US President George W. Bush, gearing up for a prime time television address tomorrow to tell Americans why they should be prepared to fight, warned that the danger from Iraq was “grave and growing” and war might be unavoidable.
Iraq, accused by Washington of developing weapons of mass destruction which it denies, said it did not want war. “We are not warmongers. We do not want war and we do not wish it to happen,” Izzat Ibrahim, vice-chairman of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council, told reporters in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, 255 km north of Baghdad.
“But if it is imposed on us, we will fight, God willing, a great fight in defence of principles and values,” Ibrahim said.
Mohammed Zimam Abdul Razzaq, a senior member of the ruling Baath Party, said: “If fighting was imposed on us and if God wants us to fight, we swear by God to teach the enemies and those who ally themselves with them an unprecedented lesson.”
Bush told flag-waving supporters yesterday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had to be prevented from inflicting “massive and sudden horror” with weapons of mass destruction.
“There’s no negotiations; there’s nothing to talk about. We don’t want you to have weapons of mass destruction,” Bush said in a speech in New Hampshire ahead of his planned television address.
In his weekly radio address aired yesterday, Bush said: “If... the Iraqi regime persists in its defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable.”
Under the threat of attack, Iraq has said it will allow the return of UN weapons inspectors who left in 1998 after years spent trying to identify and destroy nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.
The US wants inspectors to return to Iraq only after the UN passes a tough new resolution which would give them unlimited access to Iraqi territory and Washington the right to attack if it judges Iraq has impeded the inspection process.
Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today, the latest stop in a tour of the strategic Gulf Arab region aimed at staving off any US military strike.
Sabri has so far declined to speak to the media about his tour, but diplomats said he was probably asking Gulf Arab states to ban US forces from using their military facilities for any attack on Iraq.
The US Fifth Fleet has its headquarters in Bahrain, which Sabri visited before going on to Oman and the UAE, while Washington is also building up a major base in Qatar.
Gulf and other Arab states have indicated they will only support a military strike on Iraq with UN backing.
Iran, for years an enemy of both neighbouring Iraq and the US, said that if US aircraft violated its airspace unintentionally while attacking Iraq, it would not be considered “an act of enmity”.
Russia, France and China have grave doubts about granting Washington sweeping UN authorisation for an attack if Iraq does not cooperate with weapons inspectors.
Underlining Muslim anger with US policy toward Iraq, Malaysia today rebuked the US for its stated goal of seeking Saddam’s overthrow.
“One nation cannot demand that another change its government — or else,” deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak made the same point yesterday.
British foreign secretary Jack Straw, who will visit Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Egypt this week to try to gather support for possible action against Iraq, told BBC radio that the international community’s efforts were focused on disarming Saddam, not overthrowing him.
But he added: “Both the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) and I and leaders of the American administration have made clear that we would wish to see the back of the Saddam Hussein regime.
“So, too, would everybody in the region and above all the Iraqi people.”
A senior US administration official sought to blunt criticism that the US had not planned sufficiently for a post-Saddam Iraq.
“Should force be required, US and coalition forces will liberate the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein,” Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior presidential aide, told a conference on foreign policy.
“We will not enter Iraq as conquerors. We will not treat the Iraqi people as a defeated nation.”
But analysts have warned that Saddam’s removal would unleash pent-up pressures in a nation ruled for 23 years by a man who has ruthlessly crushed all challengers.
“It would be an act of folly and recklessness not to go in with enough troops to impose order once the regime is toppled,” said Iraq expert Toby Dodge of Britain’s Warwick University.
Facing a chorus of support in the US Senate for action against Saddam, majority leader Tom Daschle predicted today that Congress would give overwhelming approval of a war powers resolution.
“It will pass and I suspect that there will be a broad bipartisan coalition in support of it,” said Daschle, a Democrat and the only top congressional leader who had held off supporting the resolution.