President Saddam Hussein marked the 12th anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war that evicted his army from Kuwait in 1991 by vowing on national television Friday that his soldiers would triumph if there is another military confrontation with U.S. troops, whom he likened to 13th-century Mongol invaders who leveled Baghdad.
In a 40-minute address laden with strident language and historical allusions, he said Iraq has "determined and planned to defeat the aggressors," adding: "Baghdad, its people and leadership, is determined to force the Mongols of our age to commit suicide at its gates. Anyone who tries to climb over its walls . . . will fail in his attempt."
The speech did not mention the ongoing search for weapons of mass destruction by U.N. inspectors, an issue widely followed outside Iraq that many believe could determine whether the country is attacked. It also did not repeat a claim made last week that U.N. arms inspectors were engaged in espionage, contain any suggestion that Iraq might accede to international pressure to provide more information to the inspectors, or encourage Iraqi scientists to leave the country for questioning.
Hussein's speech, which appeared to be recorded, also did not refer to the inspectors' discovery on Thursday of 12 chemical warheads that were not listed in a December weapons declaration that Iraq had pledged was complete and accurate. Iraq's possession of the warheads, although they were empty and did not appear to ever have been filled with chemical agents, was regarded by several arms experts as a technical violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction.
The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, Friday called the discovery "troubling and serious."
A senior Iraqi official said Thursday night that Iraq forgot to mention the warheads to the United Nations. But the official, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, director of Iraq's weapons-monitoring directorate, said the failure was unintentional. He said the chemical warheads, designed to fit atop 122mm rockets, were overlooked because they were stored in boxes similar to those for conventional warheads.
The warheads were found by a team of inspectors at an army munitions depot about 100 miles south of Baghdad where inspectors were examining bunkers constructed in the late 1990s. During the inspection, U.N. experts determined that 11 of the 12 warheads were empty but said one required further testing. A U.N. official said Friday that the 12th was determined to be empty.
The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said the discovery reinforced fears that Iraq might still be holding on to chemical and biological weapons it acknowledged producing in the 1980s, despite its claims that it has destroyed all those devices.
"There is not yet confidence . . . that all the chemical and biological weapons and missiles are gone and that all the equipment is gone," Blix said in Paris after meeting French President Jacques Chirac.
Chirac, who also met with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, said he supported both men's request for additional time to complete their mission. "It is only wise to agree to this request," Chirac said. "Give them more time to work to bring about a more detailed response."
A team of chemical weapons inspectors visited two sites Friday in the Falluja area northwest of Baghdad -- a storage area for farm products and a factory that produces phenol and chlorine.
About a dozen biological weapons inspectors, led by the chief U.N. field inspector, descended on a private farm about 30 miles southeast of Baghdad that had never been searched. The inspectors, who appeared to be acting on an intelligence tip, used metal detectors to scan piles of drying corn, but they were not observed removing anything from the site.
Faleh Hassan, an Iraqi physicist who was questioned by inspectors for almost six hours in his house on Thursday before he departed in a U.N. vehicle, went home early this morning after inspectors finished photocopying a large box of documents he carried with him as he left his home, U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki said. Copies of the documents, which appeared to deal with Iraq's past nuclear program, were sent to Vienna Friday to be analyzed by experts with the IAEA, a U.N. official said.
In his speech, Hussein did not refer to President Bush by name but alluded to him as Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, whose troops slaughtered thousands of people when they pillaged Baghdad in 1258. The leader of Baghdad at the time was an incompetent military commander whose army was defeated by the overwhelming Mongol force.
Some analysts and diplomats suggested that Hussein's references to Baghdad could be a sign that he intends to station his troops around the capital to draw U.S. forces into urban combat with the aim of inflicting as many casualties as possible.
His address was intended to mark the Jan. 17, 1991, launch of air attacks on Iraq, particularly Baghdad, that marked the beginning of a campaign by a U.S.-led military coalition to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
Hussein still refers to the war as the "Mother of All Battles," and Iraqi officials have depicted the events not as a rout but as a victory because his government survived.