BAGHDAD: A defiant Saddam Hussein rallied Iraqis on the 12th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War yesterday with a vow to rout US troops at the gates of Baghdad.
The Iraqi president said he had mobilised his army and drawn up a plan to counter any invasion by the tens of thousands of US soldiers, warplanes and ships now massing in the Gulf.
Saddam’s speech, marking the anniversary of the start of the Gulf War that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, came a day after UN inspectors in Iraq said they had found empty rocket warheads designed to carry chemical warfare agents.
The White House called the discovery “troubling and serious” and said the warheads had not been declared by Iraq, clear evidence that Saddam was not disarming as required under a tough new UN resolution passed last November.
UN weapons chief Hans Blix adopted a softer stance, saying the find was no “smoking gun”, or key evidence that could trigger a US-led invasion.
“This discovery is interesting and obviously the warheads have to be destroyed ... But it’s not something that’s so important because we’re talking about empty warheads,” he said in Paris.
Iraq says they were obsolete stock that had been forgotten about.
Saddam made no mention of the discovery in his speech urging Iraqis to be alert for a US strike.
“We have determined and planned to defeat the aggressors. We have mobilised our abilities, including those of the army, people and leadership,” Saddam said in a televised speech.
Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, toured Paris and London to brief the two veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council on the arms inspectors’ hunt for chemical, biological and ballistic weapons in Iraq.
Blix said he was not yet sure that Iraq had destroyed all its banned weapons. “There is not yet confidence ... that all the chemical and biological weapons and missiles are gone and that all the equipment is gone,” he said.
Blix and ElBaradei have said they would confront Iraqi officials in talks in Baghdad tomorrow and on Monday with big gaps in the weapons declaration Iraq submitted to the United Nations on Dec 7.
Weapons experts said the 122mm rocket casings found in ammunition bunkers were from a multiple-barrelled rocket launcher system, a battlefield artillery weapon that could not be considered a weapon of mass destruction.
“It would make no sense to hide them in a place ... where the inspectors are sure to look. For once the Iraqis are probably telling the truth,” Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies said. – Reuters