US forces in the Gulf are fully prepared to stop any aggressive action by Iraq, US Defense Secretary William Cohen said Sunday, responding to threatening Iraqi statements about Kuwait.
"Our forces stand ready," he said at a news conference in Singapore aboard a visiting US warship, the USS Germantown.
"I think he (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) understands that the United States and our British friends are fully prepared to take whatever action is necessary to prevent him from trying to repeat his past actions," Cohen said.
Cohen said US forces have not been augmented in the Gulf in the wake of Iraqi charges that Kuwait was stealing its oil. The charges have raised concerns because they echoed Baghdad's rationale for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"There has been no need to intensify that. There are sufficient forces on station," he said.
"We can certainly handle Saddam should he choose to take any kind of aggressive action. It would be a mistake on his part should he choose to repeat what he did in the past," Cohen said.
Meanwhile, Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing its oil for the third day running Sunday, with one report saying it involved 300,000 barrels of crude a day taken from oil fields in the border area.
"The theft of Iraqi oil by Kuwait is not new," Saad Qassem Hammudi, a senior member of the ruling Baath Party told AFP.
"It is a fact established in Iraqi documents and reports since 1990", when Iraq invaded the emirate after accusing it of taking oil.
Hammudi said Kuwaiti Crown Prince Saad al-Abdallah al-Sabah "recognized the theft in 1990 during negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait in Saudi Arabia," preceding the invasion.
"The differences between the two were only over the amount of crude stolen," he added.
The Baghdad government newspaper Al-Jumhuriya said Sunday the amount of oil being stolen was between 300,000 and 350,000 barrels a day.
It said the oil was taken with US backing from the Rumeila, Zubeir and Basra fields in southern Iraq.
Hammudi also rejected US threats to resort to force if Iraq menaces Kuwait.
"Is it forbidden to denounce the theft of our resources or are we threatening regional security by demanding our right?" he asked.
Hammudi said the theft of Iraqi crude was part of US aggression against Baghdad assisted by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which shelter US and British warplanes.
"The UN Security Council and the Arab League should intervene to halt the aggression and put an end to the pillage of Iraq's riches," he said.
Kuwait has denied stealing and accused Baghdad of trying to start another war in the region.
Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2nd, 1990 after accusing the emirate of stealing oil from the Rumeila field and nibbling away at its territory.
A US-led international coalition chased Iraqi forces out of Kuwait seven months later - (AFP)
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