Saddam Rejects Exile to Avoid War
by Bassem Mroule AP
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Feb. 26) - Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein says he would rather die than leave his country, dismissing recent arguments by U.S. and Arab leaders that he could go into exile to avoid war.
``We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor - the honor that is required ... in front of our people,'' Saddam says in an interview with CBS' Dan Rather.
The network reported excerpts of the interview on its Web site Tuesday night, and said the comments would air Wednesday on ``60 Minutes II.''
``Whoever decides to forsake his nation from whoever requests is not true to the principles,'' Saddam says. ``I believe that whoever ... offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals.''
President Bush said last month that he would welcome Saddam Hussein going into exile and some Arab countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, have proposed offering Saddam exile to avoid a war.
Saddam also denied any links to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida and indicated he would not set fire to Iraq's oil fields or destroy its dams if a U.S.-led invasion occurs in Iraq.
``Iraq does not burn its wealth and it does not destroy its dams,'' Saddam says.
He said that Iraq has never had any relationship to al-Qaida terrorists, ``and I think that Mr. bin Laden himself has recently, in one of his speeches, given such an answer that we have no relation with him.''
In a part of the interview that aired earlier Tuesday on CBS, the Iraqi president indicated he wouldn't heed a U.N. demand to destroy Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles and said his missiles didn't exceed ranges allowed by the United Nations.
But Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz insisted Tuesday that the government had not yet decided whether to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles. ``It's being studied,'' Aziz said.
``Readiness for the aggression is continuing ... but this doesn't mean that we should stop our political and diplomatic work,'' Aziz said. ``We should continue with it, but we should also prepare ourselves for the battle.''
Both Iraqi and U.N. officials spoke of new, substantive cooperation. U.N. inspectors visited a pit where Iraq says it destroyed biological weapons in 1991, and Iraq reported finding an R-400 bomb containing liquid at a disposal site.
``We have made some progress. In fact, we have made some breakthroughs,'' said Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Saddam's adviser on the inspections.
Iraq appeared to be sending conflicting messages over an order from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to begin destroying its Al Samouds and their components by the end of the week because the missiles can fly farther than allowed.
The missiles are still being produced and tested, the inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, Hiro Ueki, said Tuesday. He said the last test took place Monday.
Al-Saadi also said Iraq was still studying the U.N. missile order. He said he would not comment on the Saddam interview because he had not seen it.
Ueki said at a news conference that the United Nations was still awaiting an official response on the missiles.
He said inspectors have completed tagging all deployed Al Samoud 2 missiles but still needed to tag some unassembled components.
Ueki also said inspectors have begun to visit excavations by the Iraqis southeast of Baghdad at a site where Iraq says it destroyed bombs filled with biological agents in 1991. On Monday and Tuesday, inspectors examined munitions fragments around the pit, he said.
U.S. warplanes, meanwhile, bombed missile launch systems in northern and southern Iraq on Tuesday because they threatened coalition forces enforcing no-fly zones, the U.S. military said.
U.S. and British planes have been enforcing no-fly zones in north and south Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War. They are intended to protect minority Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south from Iraqi government forces.
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