Saddam Hussein marked Iraq's Revolution Day with a defiant televised speech, pro-claiming that the United States and its allies would never be able to overthrow him.
With the prospect of war increasing, President Saddam insisted yesterday that Iraq's armed forces were fully prepared and equipped to defend the country against an American-led attack.
President George Bush and his advisers have repeatedly claimed that armed action is necessary because of Iraq's alleged production of weapons of mass destruction and links with terrorism. Last week Mr Bush said he would use all the tools at his disposal to topple President Saddam.
Iraq has also failed to reach an agreement with the United Nations for the return of weapons inspectors despite intensive discussions between UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri.
President Saddam's speech, commemorating the 34th anniversary of the Baath Party seizing power, was broadcast live by state television and radio. The Iraqi leadersaid: "Temmuz [July Revolution] returns to say to all evil tyrants and oppressors of the world: You will never defeat me this time. Never! Even if you come together from all over the world, and invite all the devils as well, to stand by you. If America attacks, Iraq will emerge eventually triumphant."
According to Iraqi sources the regime is bolstering its air defences and moving soldiers and armour. Initial elements of US forces which could be used in a land offensive against Iraq are expected to be ready by October. But gathering a full invasion forceis expected to delay any attack until January or February.
Russia and France both voiced their opposition yesterday to an attack. Moscow's Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said: "Russia will oppose any unilateral military action undertaken against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council."
But Tony Blair said the Government backed the US view that a war against against Iraq does not need a new UN resolution. His comments alarmed Labour MPs, who will confront the Prime Minister next Wednesday when he gives an end-of-term addresss to the parliamentary party.
It is understood that there is conflicting legal advice in Whitehall on whether the US and Britain would need a fresh mandate in order to take action against President Saddam. The Government insisted the advice offered by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, and lawyers at the Foreign Office would remain confidential. But one Whitehall source said: "There are differing opinions. If you ask some lawyers, they will always say you need more legal back-up."
King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country is predicted to be one of the bases for an assault on Iraq in leaked Pentagon plans, met Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, yesterday to discuss the crisis. According to the Emirates news agency, the two men, "reaffirmed their opposition to any military strike against Iraq".
Turkey, another possible launch-pad for an attack, is reported to have told Paul Wolfowitz, the visiting US Defence Secretary, that it will not oppose a military campaign against Iraq as long it did not lead to the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
Scott Ritter, the former head of the UN weapons inspectorate in Iraq, said during a visit to London: "The Iraqis do have the capability of producing some weapons of mass destruction. But they would not be anything like sophisticated enough to be used against a neighbouring country, and it would be suicidal for Saddam to attempt to do so."
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