AMMAN, JORDAN, OCT. 30 -- Iraq announced today that President Saddam Hussein put his military commanders on "extreme alert" against U.S. attack in the next few days and told them to prepare for "urban warfare" in occupied Kuwait.
The statement, carried by the official Iraq News Agency, was interpreted as a display of determination in the face of stepped-up pressure from U.S. leaders emphasizing that Saddam risks war unless he pulls his troops out of Kuwait and releases his Western and Japanese hostages.
"We must be prepared with all the potential God has given us to thwart the perfidious intentions of the United States and its allies to launch an attack in the coming few days," INA said Saddam told a special meeting of the armed forces General Command.
The Iraqi leader urged his generals to be on "extreme alert" to face the possibility of "evil aggression" soon, it added, and reviewed with them "part of the preparations required for urban warfare in the Kuwait province operational theater."
Among those who attended along with Iraq's top military commanders were Defense Minister Abdel-Jabbar Shanshal and Military Industrialization Minister Hussein Kamel Hassan, INA reported.
It said "security officials" assigned to Kuwait also participated, but they were not named. Gen. Ali Hassan Majid, who crushed Kurdish rebels in a ruthless campaign two years ago that included poison-gas attacks, was posted in Kuwait recently as military governor to suppress remnants of resistance.
The official report on an Iraqi General Command meeting, although it contained few details, was seen as a significant gesture in a country whose leadership usually is highly secretive about anything connected to the military. It came one day after Secretary of State James A. Baker III warned that the patience of the United States and its allies in the gulf was wearing thin.
"Let no one doubt," Baker said in a speech in Los Angeles. "We will not rule out a possible use of force if Iraq continues to occupy Kuwait."
The exchange -- a strong U.S. warning and a tough Iraqi response -- marked a clear hardening of the atmosphere surrounding the gulf crisis after hopes of diplomatic progress were raised over the weekend by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his special envoy to Baghdad, Yevgeny Primakov.
Gorbachev suggested Saturday in Madrid and again Monday in Paris that Saddam's position was shifting. But he gave no indication how, and Primakov returned to Moscow today without any sign that he had cracked Saddam's refusal to withdraw from Kuwait as a first step toward a peaceful settlement as demanded by Washington and its allies.
Unnamed Iraqi officials were quoted by a London newspaper, the Financial Times, today as saying that Iraq is considering releasing all foreign hostages provided the Soviet Union and France publicly commit themselves to resolving the gulf crisis by peaceful means. There was no separate confirmation.
Iraq has insisted from the beginning that talks on Kuwait can begin only if they are linked to discussions of broader Middle East issues, including the Arab-Israeli dispute over Israeli-occupied territories and the presence of Syrian and Israeli troops in Lebanon. A senior diplomatic official in Baghdad said recently that this stand was conveyed to Primakov clearly during his first visit to the Iraqi capital early in October.
Gorbachev's idea, expressed Monday, for an "inter-Arab" meeting to solve the crisis nevertheless drew a favorable reaction in Jordan, where officials pointed out that Arab peacemaking has been King Hussein's goal since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. Iraq also has demanded that the dispute be settled between Arabs, calling for withdrawal of the U.S.-led multinational force in the Arabian Peninsula as a first step.
Despite the apparent failure to break the stalemate, President George Vassiliou of Cyprus said Primakov intends to pursue his Middle East peace mission, possibly including a third trip to Baghdad. Primakov met with Vassiliou in Cyprus during a stopover on his return to Moscow.
The exiled Kuwaiti leadership, which received Primakov earlier today in Taif, Saudi Arabia, said it expressed appreciation for his efforts but reminded him that U.N. Security Council resolutions on the gulf crisis call for total Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the overthrown ruler, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah.
Some reports on Primakov's mission earlier this month said Saddam told him Iraq would be willing to withdraw from part of Kuwait, retaining control over the northern Rumailah oil field and the islands of Warba and Bubiyan at the entrance to the Shatt al Arab. The idea was highlighted last week by the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, who suggested Saudi Arabia would see nothing wrong in Kuwait and Iraq freely negotiating a shift of their border if this could solve the gulf crisis peacefully.
After urgent inquiries from the United States, King Fahd reaffirmed the Saudi stand that Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait and allow the exiled leadership to return to power. In any case, Iraq vehemently rejected partial withdrawal as a solution, reiterating that Kuwait has become Iraq's 19th province "forever."
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council also declared Monday that Saddam should expect no concessions of Kuwaiti territory. The council is made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, all allied with the United States and other nations against Iraq's takeover of Kuwait.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi sharply criticized the gulf allies for allowing U.S. and other Western forces into Saudi Arabia. In a speech to Moslem leaders in Tripoli, Qaddafi said Moslems around the world should boycott the annual pilgrimage to Islam's holy places next year in protest of the U.S. military presence.
Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest sites, are in Saudi Arabia. Although U.S. troops have been stationed far from the holy cities, Iraq has accused King Fahd of betraying his stewardship and allowing the sites to be "defiled" by infidels from the U.S. Army.
At the same time, Gadhafi called on Moslems to urge Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait. From the outset of the crisis he has denounced the Western troop buildup while opposing Iraq's takeover of Kuwait.
Although Gadhafi's observations were expected to carry little weight in Saudi Arabia, the issue of the hajj, or pilgrimage, has been cited as a possible factor in military planning. Pilgrimages will take place in late spring next year and the presence of hundreds of thousands of foreign troops could, in Saudi eyes, complicate handling the annual flood of about 2 million pilgrims.