Defiant Iraq shrugs off early warning shot from Bush\'s Gulf War team
A defiant Iraq shrugged off an early warning from US secretary of state-designate Colin Powell that Saddam Hussein's days were numbered, as president-elect George W. Bush reassembles his father's Gulf War team. "Powell's threats do not frighten us and they will not make us bow," the commander of Iraq's air defenses, General Shahin Mohammad Yassin, told a press conference on the second anniversary of a US-British air war on Iraq. "Let him make threats. Others have done the same before him," Yassin said, referring to the outgoing administration of US President Bill Clinton. Such threats only "make us (Iraq) more determined".
Iraq said Friday US president-elect George W. Bush would try to dupe the Arab world over the Middle East peace process and that the only way forward for the Palestinians was holy war. The Ath-Thawra daily, mouthpiece for President Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party, said Bush would copy his predecessors in letting US foreign policy be controlled by "the hegemony of the Zionists. Bush's father already deceived everybody once, Bill Clinton deceived everyone twice in the course of two terms in office and now Bush will deceive again," it said in Iraq's first official reaction to the US election results.
On Saturday, Bush, who is to take office in January, nominated Gulf War hero and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired General Colin Powell, as his secretary of state. Powell, joining a team that also includes vice president-elect Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary during the 1991 war against Iraq when Bush's father was president, promptly delivered a blunt warning to Iraq's leadership. "Saddam Hussein is sitting on a failed regime that is not going to be around in a few years' time," he said. "We are in the strong position, he is in the weak position," said Powell, whose US-led military coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991 but with Saddam remaining in place.
He charged that Iraq had yet to fulfill its commitments to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. “My judgment is that sanctions in some form must be kept in place until they do so. We will work with our allies to re-energize the sanctions regime," Powell added. "I think it is possible to re-energize those sanctions, and to continue to contain him, and then confront him should that become necessary again," the general warned.
An Iraqi information ministry spokesman said Powell had "ignored the fact that the coalition has fallen apart" and that only Britain continued to support the hard line against Iraq. "The current international mood is against US policy and maintaining the embargo," he said, quoted by the official news agency INA.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, meanwhile, has played down the impact of the change of administration in Washington. "Be the American government Republican or Democrat, there will be no change in American policy" toward Baghdad, he said in the highest-level Iraqi reaction since Bush was finally confirmed the victor of November 7 elections. "In America, there's an institution that governs. That's money, which confers power," he told reporters after visiting a Spanish delegation that flew into Iraq in defiance of sanctions. Aziz said the current deadlock on Iraq, which has remained under UN sanctions ever since the Gulf conflict, served US military-industrial interests, so it can "sell arms to countries that don't need them and don't even have any use for them."
An official of Iraq's ruling Baath party, meanwhile, urged the Bush administration "to opt for dialogue and not force, to settle outstanding problems. The language of threats has failed in the past and it will fail in the future," Saad Kassem Hammudi told AFP. But Iraqi MP Salem al-Qabissi charged that US policy, whatever the administration, was "based on threats of resorting to force and pressure on peoples and governments".
In contrast, the Iraqi opposition in exile said Sunday it would work with the new US administration to topple Saddam. "We want to cooperate more closely with the new administration... to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein and establish democracy in Iraq," said a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition coalition. Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, quoted by the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, said the INC was "optimistic" that the Bush administration would deliver on a US pledge of $97 million to support the opposition.
Iraq has been under crippling UN sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, with the United States and Britain insisting on Baghdad's compliance with international weapons inspectors. Bush's father was president when the United States led a coalition that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. As president in 1991, George Bush, father of the president-elect, led the multinational Gulf War effort to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, and he remains a detested figure in Baghdad. — (AFP, Baghdad)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)