- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Iraq threatened retaliation against Washington's regional allies if they sided with the United States in a possible war with the Arab nation, and groups opposed to Saddam Hussein began a meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"A war is a war. If aggression is launched against Iraq, it certainly has the right to defend itself by any methods," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan told Russia's Vremya Novostey newspaper. "Anyone helping the Americans will be considered their accomplice."

At present, Turkey, one of the key U.S. allies in the region, is considering Washington's request of the use of military bases should there be a war against Iraq.

Ramadan's comments were reported by the newspaper Wednesday.

The Iraqi vice president also pointed to the split in the international community, specifically among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, on how to disarm Iraq.

"If Washington launches a military operation against the will of the international community, such a war will have consequences for the United States," Ramadan told the newspaper. "Iraq will stage resistance and the world will support us. Americans will be persecuted all over the world."

Washington and Britain say Saddam cannot be trusted and that he has lied to the international community. They say Iraq possesses proscribed weapons of mass destruction and must be disarmed — with force if necessary.

On Monday, a U.N. draft resolution from the United States and its allies warned Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences." The new resolution jointly by the United States, Britain and Spain said Baghdad "has failed to take the final opportunity" to disarm as called for in the Nov. 7 Res. 1441, which returned the inspectors to Iraq for the first time since 1998.

It contained no specific deadline for compliance, nor did it mention the use of force, but found Iraq had "failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441."

Resolution 1441, which authorized the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, warned Baghdad of "serious consequence" if it did not comply with the world body. The United States is amassing thousands of troops in the region while U.N. inspectors search the country for suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Russia, France and China say, however, the issue must be resolved through diplomatic means.

In France, lawmakers from across the political spectrum threw their weight behind President Jacques Chirac's efforts to resolve the crisis during a parliamentary debate Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin cast doubts on the value of military action.

"We don't think the path of force will be shorter or more certain," he said.

He also argued it was too early to consider the second U.N. resolution, a position echoed by Chirac Tuesday following a luncheon meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Speculation that Saddam may accept exile to save his country from a possible war were also dashed when both the Iraqi leader and Ramadan rejected the claim.

"I have taught my children the value of history and the value of human stands," the Iraqi leader told CBS' Dan Rather in an interview to be broadcast Wednesday. "… Whoever decides to forsake his nation from whoever requests is not true to the principles.

"We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor."

Ramadan echoed that view in his interview to the Russian newspaper.

"You journalists spread dirty rumors and repeat what the American special services hand you," he said. "It's a shame to even speak about it."

Also Wednesday, Iraqi opposition groups began a meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish media reported. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the Iraqi opposition, attended the much-delayed meeting.

In a statement, the Iraqi National Congress said the meeting expected to "elect a leadership that will represent the Iraqi people through the next critical phase of the liberation of Iraq."

In Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz met with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad and discussed how Iraq could benefit from Pretoria's experience of scrapping its own weapons of mass destruction.


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