- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

A defiant Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday warned the "forces of evil" that they shall "carry their own coffins" if the United States organizes a military invasion to bring down his regime.
Saddam's televised address, his first public remarks since President Bush made clear last month his determination to drive the Iraqi leader from power, came as senior Bush administration officials prepared to meet today with members of the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, an umbrella group of opposition forces pressing for decisive action against the Baghdad regime.
INC spokesman Sharif Ali said yesterday that Saddam's rhetoric cannot hide the fact that he has no popular support.
"The entirety of the Iraqi population is opposed to Saddam Hussein," he said. "Nobody in Iraq will defend that regime, including the military."
Saddam attempted to amplify the message of his 22-minute televised address by organizing a rally of about 15,000 members of his "Jerusalem Army" a battalion formed two years ago with the aim of driving Israelis out of the ancient city through the streets of Baghdad.
Many carried placards with pictures of the Iraqi leader and anti-U.S. slogans.
The Bush administration was unimpressed.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the U.S. government still is insisting that Iraq allow international inspectors into the country to monitor its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs or face the consequences.
"The Iraqi government needs to comply with the responsibilities it agreed to at the end of the [1991] Gulf war," Mr. McClellan told reporters at Mr. Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, where the president is spending the month.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker dismissed Saddam's remarks as "bluster from an internationally isolated dictator, demonstrative yet again that his regime shows no intention to live up to its obligations under U.N. Security Council [disarmament] resolutions."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had expressed his own doubts about a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq, told reporters in New York that Saddam's demand for more preliminary talks before weapons inspectors could return showed a "lack of flexibility" from Baghdad.
"I don't see any change in attitude," said Mr. Annan, adding that he saw no cause for optimism, barring "unforeseen developments."
Saddam, who memorably promised the "mother of all battles" before a U.S.-led force routed his occupying troops from Kuwait in 1991, was in full rhetorical cry yesterday. The speech was broadcast to mark the 14th anniversary of the end of the 1980-88 war with Iran.
Appealing to regional Arab and Muslim states for support, Saddam said history repeatedly has shown the dangers invaders face in the region.
"All empires and bearers of the coffins of evil, whenever they mobilized their evil against the Arab nation or the Muslim world, were themselves buried in their own coffin along with their sick dreams, arrogance and greed," he warned.
He added, "The forces of evil shall die of their disgraceful failure, with their schemes backfiring on their countries."
Saddam said he was speaking out "in such clear terms so that no weakling might imagine that our refusal to respond to ill talk is a sign of fear of the impudent threats."
Mr. Ali of the Iraqi National Congress said Saddam's speech reflected mounting fears in Baghdad that U.S. military action was imminent, despite Mr. Bush's repeated assertions that no war plan had "reached my desk."
Mr. Ali said the Iraqi leader's remarks were designed to play on military and diplomatic divisions in the region and in Europe, where many have expressed strong reservations to Mr. Bush's hard line.
The London-based INC has a long, rocky relationship with the State Department and is facing heavy U.S. skepticism over its ability to unite, its influence inside Iraq and its management of U.S. funds aimed at undermining Saddam's rule.
But the opposition group received a boost when the Pentagon agreed to assume responsibility for funding some of its covert activities in and around Iraq.
Six INC leaders, including Chairman Ahmed Chalabi and the heads of two major parties representing northern Iraq's sizable Kurdish population, are to meet today with Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith at the State Department.
One item on the agenda will be an $8 million payment to the INC for humanitarian and public diplomacy efforts, which has not been released as the two sides negotiate how the money will be spent.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney will address the INC delegates by secure satellite television hookup from his Wyoming ranch tomorrow, in another sign of growing closeness between the two sides.
Mr. Ali said the Iraqi delegates, while addressing financing problems, have a much broader agenda that includes the shape of a post-Saddam Iraq and joint efforts to develop a "blueprint" to install a viable democratic regime.
Addressing a packed news conference at the National Press Club yesterday, the INC spokesman attempted to calm fears that ousting Saddam could lead to the breakup of Iraq and a new round of instability in the Middle East.
He dismissed yesterday's rallies in the streets of Baghdad as the product of Saddam's coercive propaganda machine.
"This is a regime that carries out the most terrible torture and punishment for anybody that is suspected of even thinking about opposing the regime," he said.
"So any demonstrations you see are no indication of the support that Saddam Hussein may or may not have."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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