Aziz Sets the Tone

"We are alive, well and on plan"

Tariq Aziz
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. . ."

Mideast - AFP 3:39pmEST

 3/24/03 Monday

Aziz says Saddam in control, Iraq leadership intact

 53 minutes ago

 BAGHDAD (AFP) - Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz insisted that the Iraqi leadership were all safe and sound and vowed President Saddam Hussein was in full control of a nation ready to inflict huge losses on US and British troops.

In a Baghdad press conference that showed flashes of biting sarcasm, Aziz -- one of many top Iraqi officials earlier reported dead by some US media -- piled scorn on coalition claims about their progress in the five-day-old war.

 "Saddam Hussein is in total control of his country," he said. "Saddam Hussein is in total control of his armed forces and his people, and the (ruling) Baath party .... We are all with him."

Noting the stiff resistance in the vital southern port of Umm Qasr, where Iraqi fighters have given US and British troops four days of bloody battles, Aziz insisted that none of his country's elite Republican Guard had even taken part.

"If the resistance in Umm Qasr took all this time and inflicted such casualties, you can imagine what the coming days will be," he said.

Asked what coalition forces could expect from a battle in Baghdad, Aziz snarled at US claims that their soldiers would be met with applause and cheers from Iraqis happy that the United States had come to "liberate" them from Saddam.

"They will be met with the best music and the finest flowers in all of Iraq (news - web sites)," he said. "They will be welcomed in the same way as they are welcomed in Umm Qasr."

He also ridiculed Western reports that Saddam and other members of the leadership might have been injured or killed in the pinpoint strikes that marked the beginning of the US assault on Iraq on Thursday.

"All the members of the Iraqi leadership ... are in good shape, working courageously, effectively, according to the plan."

Aziz also denied US allegations that Russians were helping Iraq and that a Russian firm had sold Baghdad embargoed equipment to jam US weapons guidance technology. He gave the news conference shortly after three massive explosions shook Baghdad Monday evening as fresh coalition air raids bombarded the Iraqi capital.

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