AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 10 -- Iraq today apparently closed the door on the latest diplomatic initiative to stop the Persian Gulf War, ruling out any compromise over its occupation of Kuwait and declaring that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to fight allied forces was "irrevocable."
In a radio address today, Saddam praised the steadfastness of Iraqi troops, who have endured more than three weeks of allied bombardment, and said his country "is not ready to relinquish the role given to it by God."
The official Iraqi newspaper al-Qadissiya, which reflects the views of the Defense Ministry, dared the allies to begin the long-awaited ground war, saying that Saddam, his army and the Iraqi people are prepared to fight "to the end."
A top Iraqi official told reporters here today that the occupation of Kuwait was not the main issue in the war, but rather attempts by the United States and others "to destroy Iraq and control the region."
The Iraqi remarks came as Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani acknowledged that Baghdad so far has failed to respond favorably to his ideas on ending the gulf war. Although details of Rafsanjani's initiative have not been made public, Iran has suggested an immediate cease-fire, an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and the interposition of Islamic peace-keeping forces.
Rafsanjani said, however, that "all doors have not been closed" on his initiative, and he continued to hold out hope for a breakthrough to end the fighting.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati expressed similar hopes, telling Cable News Network, "I think it needs more time and more effort." He conceded, though, that the reply from Baghdad was "not on the same level as we had expected."
Despite Iraq's continued hard-line stance, a Soviet envoy was due to arrive in Baghdad tonight carrying a stern warning from President Mikhail Gorbachev that Iraq would suffer serious repercussions unless it withdraws its troops from Kuwait.
In Washington, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said he welcomed the visit by the Soviet envoy, provided it led to an Iraqi withdrawal. "If that personal emissary is able to come back with full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, more power to them," Baker said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "That's, after all, what we've been seeking for five months."
President Bush told reporters that he had heard today's remarks by Saddam, "and I didn't hear him say anything about him getting out Kuwait. . . . That's what the whole world is wanting to hear."
Speaking to reporters in the Jordanian capital today after talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi rejected the notion that Iraq's occupation of Kuwait was the key issue in the gulf war.
While not going into the details of the Iranian initiative or Iraq's exact reaction to it, Hammadi said: "We have told the Iranians that the current issue is not the issue of Kuwait, but that of the American, colonialist and Zionist aggression to destroy Iraq and control the region.
"Therefore what we have to do now is to have a united Muslim front to face this front of infidels, and after Muslims unite and drive out this aggression, such an Islamic front will not find it difficult to solve any other issues."
Diplomats here confirmed that Iraq's response constituted a rejection of the Iranian peace effort. They said Iraq apparently is confident that it can survive a ground assault by allied forces, the Associated Press reported.
Baghdad radio said Iraqi troops were prepared "to make this duel the end of the imperialist American empire." Referring to the prospect of a ground war, the radio added, "Let them dare to attack."
In his radio address, Saddam suggested that the onus for the start of the gulf war was not on Iraq but President Bush, who made "the decision of war . . . instead of dialogue."
Correspondent Jonathan C. Randal contributed to this report from Tehran.