BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein warned yesterday that if Iraq is attacked, it will take the war anywhere in the world “wherever there is sky, land or water.” President Bush gave the United Nations one more day to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff.
Amid fears that war is imminent, U.N. weapons inspectors flew most of their helicopters out of Iraq; Germany advised its citizens to leave the country immediately and said it would shut down its embassy in Baghdad.
Residents of the Iraqi capital lined up for gasoline and snapped up canned food and bottled water. People mobbed pharmacies to buy antibiotics and tranquilizers. Workers sandbagged fighting positions outside government buildings.
With nearly 300,000 U.S. and British troops in the Persian Gulf ready to strike, Bush and the leaders of Britain and Spain at an emergency summit in the Azores Islands said the United Nations must decide by today to support “the immediate and unconditional disarmament” of Iraq.
Saddam made his own preparations, sidestepping the military chain of command to place one of his sons and three other trusted aides in charge of the defense of the nation. The decree issued late Saturday placed Iraq on a war footing.
In a meeting with military commanders yesterday, the Iraqi leader threatened a broader war if the United States attacks.
“When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire world,” Saddam told his commanders, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.
Iraqi Vice President Naji Sabri said Iraq has long been preparing “as if war is happening in an hour.”
“We’ve been preparing our people for this for more than a year,” he told the Arabic satellite channel Al-Arabiya.
Asked to comment on the Azores summit – which joined Bush and prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain – Sabri pointed to the stiff opposition at the Security Council to Washington’s bid for authorization of military action.
“There is a big impasse in which the Bush-Blair policies of war … have fallen. This impasse is causing embarrassment day after day through widespread rejection of this policy,” Sabri said.
Sabri also complained about the U.S. and British military buildup in Kuwait and breaches in the fence along the Iraq-Kuwait border, which have been reported by U.N. military observers.
“In light of these flagrant threats and violations of the U.N. resolutions, the Iraqi authorities will take the necessary measures to exercise the legitimate right of self-defense,” Sabri said.
The United States has sought an ultimatum for Saddam to disarm or face war. France, Russia and Germany have urged the Security Council to set a timeline – but no ultimatum – for Baghdad to fulfill disarmament tasks set by weapons inspectors. French President Jacques Chirac proposed a 30-day timeframe, though Germany objected that inspectors should have as long as they want.