- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 21 (UPI) — Iraqi top officials confirmed Friday that the U.S. missile strikes on Baghdad hit the house of President Saddam Hussein whose family escaped unharmed but denied that the border area of Umm-Qasar fell to the U.S.-British forces or that Iraqi soldiers surrendered.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said during a news conference in Baghdad that Saddam's family house was hit but "God protected his family." Al-Sahhaf, wearing military fatigues, lashed out at U.S. and British forces calling them as "miserable gunmen who consider themselves a superpower. They are a superpower of villains."

Expressing Iraqi readiness to defend their country and leader, he said: "All 26 million Iraqis are Saddam Hussein."

Al-Sahhaf said 37 Iraqi civilians were wounded in last night's U.S. bombardment of Baghdad and showed pictures of them being treated in hospitals. He promised the U.S. and British "gangs" that "we will not let them get out of the quagmire we let them in."

He denied that more than 159 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the invading forces, saying: "Those who have been shown by the gangs of villains as Iraqi prisoners are not Iraqi prisoners or members of the armed forces. From where did they get them? We are trying to know."

Standing next to al-Sahhaf was Interior Minister Mahmoud Ziab al-Ahmed who raised his machinegun and said: "The Iraqi command and people have sworn that we will not relinquish this weapon until the day of victory."

"My 12-year-old son is carrying a weapon his height," al-Ahmed said. "We made a pledge of honor to defend Saddam, his family and Iraq. Scram little Bush and Blair who pushed their people into this battle without a reason."

He strongly denied that the U.S.-British forces entered the area of Umm-Qasar, saying it is "silly and a lie" and that he just called the Umm-Qasar governor who refuted the U.S. claims.

"It's an attack and retreat battle. How would they enter Baghdad. It will be their crematory," al-Ahmed said. "Iraq's territories are vast and one or two tanks could enter and be filmed. The Iraqi Army will fight them and will kill them in the land of Iraq." Al-Ahmed said Iraqis have no problem and don't want to kill the U.S. and British people but appeared confident of Iraq's "certain victory in the coming days."

Al-Sahhaf confirmed that Umm-Qasar was "still in the hands of the Iraqis" and said "they claimed to have entered 200 miles inside Iraq. This is wrong." "They distributed a tape showing they were in a desert … but where is this desert?" he said.

He refuted claims of "strong resistance in Umm-Qasar but there is nothing in Umm-Qasar" and "nothing is also happening in the south" where U.S. and British forces reported big explosions.

Al-Sahhaf also confirmed that Iraqi forces shot down two U.S. helicopters and described as silly U.S. claims that one helicopter crashed and the other was destroyed to prevent being captured by the Iraqis.

On firing Scud missiles into Kuwait, he said Iraqis feel no enmity towards the Kuwaiti people but lashed out at their rulers "who are conspiring against Iraq and made Kuwait a base to attack it."

He said the Scud missiles that were fired Thursday hit U.S. and other military targets in Kuwait.

Al-Sahhaf said the U.S. and British invading soldiers will be treated as "mercenaries and war criminals on whom international laws are not applied." He also denounced reports that Iraqi funds and properties deposited abroad, especially in the U.S., saying the move was "part of desperate measures that indicate they have started to lose their nerves."

He warned that "stealing Iraqi money and properties in the U.S." will greatly harmed "those miserable" forces.

Al-Sahhaf said U.S. and Britain tried to portray to their public opinion that the war on Iraq is "an easy action" and then started to prepare them that "it's going to be a long and difficult matter."

"This is their way of lying and deception. Now it is the time of truth. They cannot continue on lying," he said, affirming that the Iraqi morale will not be affected as "we

are the just party and they are the evil."

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