Foreign minister says Baghdad will defend itself

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

AMMAN, Jordan -- Baghdad will "chop off the head" of any aggressor, Iraq's foreign minister said after talks Tuesday with Jordan's king aimed at averting U.S. military action to topple Saddam Hussein.

"We will defend ourselves, shrines and land with all faith and determination against colonialist greed and against those who attack us," Naji Sabri told reporters. "The colonialists will not achieve their futile dreams.

"Iraq will chop off the head of anyone whose hand reaches its border," Sabri said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II met separately Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel, who said NATO-member Turkey, a close U.S. ally, would not take part in an attack on Iraq.

"Certainly not,"Gurel said. "We've always been for stability and peace in the region and we've always said ... international issues should be settled by peaceful means."

On his return to Turkey, however, Gurel said he did not think Iraq had changed its position on cooperating with the United Nations on weapons inspections.

"We hope that Iraq will quickly overcome its hesitation over cooperating with the U.N. But they have not given us the impression that they will," Gurel told reporters in Ankara.

Turkish bases were a key to the U.S.-led forces that drove Saddam's forces out of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. Since then U.S. and British jets have patrolled the so-called northern no-fly over Iraq from a base in Turkey. That zone is designed to protect Kurds in the north of Iraq from retribution by Saddam.

Turkey has a large and restive Kurdish population in its southeast and fears Saddam's ouster might encourage Turkish Kurds to attempt to form their breakaway state with their clansmen in Iraq.

President Bush has threatened a fresh attack on Iraq, vowing to oust Saddam because he is allegedly building nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in violation of guarantees made at the end of the Gulf War. Saddam is under tough international sanctions until the United Nations declares he no longer has weapons of mass destruction.

Unstablized region

Jordan, like other Arab countries, opposes a U.S. war on Iraq, saying it would destabilize a region already in upheaval because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jordan, while a close American ally in the region, has critical trade relations with neighboring Iraq.

Sabri said Baghdad was committed to U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at ridding the country of weapons of mass destruction, but accused the United States of hampering the effort.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week, Sabri said his government wants chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, as well as its own experts, to determine outstanding issues regarding Iraq's banned weapons programs and figure out how to resolve them before inspectors return.

Annan said Blix could only accept the invitation after Saddam agrees to the return of U.N. weapons inspectors who have been barred from Iraq for nearly four years.

A 1999 Security Council resolution requires U.N. inspectors to determine what questions Iraq must still answer about its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs.

Annan told reporters in New York that if Baghdad agrees to the council's roadmap, he would look at Iraq's invitation "in a different light."

On Monday, Iraq also invited members of the U.S. Congress and experts of their choice to search sites in Iraq where they suspect weapons of mass destruction are hidden.

The White House dismissed the Iraqi offer, saying it was hardly worth commenting upon.

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