BAGHDAD, Iraq – "The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs to die in disgraceful failure ... to dig their own graves," Saddam Hussein promised his people Thursday as the U.S. and Britain ramped up their war plans against Iraq.
As thousands of rifle-toting, khaki-clad members of the "Jerusalem Army," a civilian militia, marched through the streets of Baghdad to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi leader addressed his nation via television.
"Greetings ... we extend to our Iraqi brothers and Iraqi martyrs, to ... the heroic people of Palestine," said Saddam, whose utterances have taken on a more Islamic tone in recent years, "and to every honorable Mujahid [holy warrior] of the faithful who met his God with a pure heart."
Dressed in a dark suit and sitting behind a lily-gilded desk, Saddam called on the United Nations to "honor its obligations" and lift sanctions that have been in place since another war, the Persian Gulf conflict, began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
America and Britain -- Saddam's "forces of evil" -- maintain that Iraq is lying when it claims to have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, one of the key conditions for lifting the sanctions.
U.N. arms inspectors have been barred from Iraq since 1998, though the threat of imminent invasion appears to have prompted Baghdad to re-open its doors to them a bit.
The United States has warned Iraq of unspecified consequences if it does not allow weapons inspections to resume. Iraqi diplomats have held three meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan this year to discuss the issue and related topics.
Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that some U.S. officials believe Iraq could acquire nuclear weapons in the future. He also expressed skepticism that the return of U.N. inspectors would solve the problem.
Eventually, Cheney said, the international community will have to "figure out how we're going to deal with this growing threat to peace and stability in the region and obviously potentially to the United States."
"The right way is that the Security Council should reply to the questions raised by Iraq and should honor its obligations under its own resolutions," Saddam said during his 22-minute speech.
He was referring to 19 questions dealing with various Iraqi complaints that were given to Annan at a meeting in March. Annan circulated the questions to the Security Council members, who have not replied.
"We reject the U.S. war threats and we are ready to face them," said Sabah Mohammed, a 45-year-old female member of the Jerusalem Army, one of 15,000 who stomped through Baghdad carrying photographs of Saddam, Palestinian and Iraqi flags and signs reading "Long live Saddam!" and "Down with U.S.A!"
The government has organized similar demonstrations for the last week. The Jerusalem Army is a civilian force established by Saddam in 2000 with the aim of driving the Israelis out of Jerusalem and supporting the Palestinian uprising.
While members of the Bush administration and Congress have spoken openly about war with Iraq, it's not clear that a military effort to topple Saddam would have international support -- particularly if Baghdad allows U.N. inspectors to return.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud said Wednesday that his government is opposed to a U.S. strike on Iraq, and would not allow its soil to be used as a base for such a military action.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, one of America's strongest allies in the Middle East, made similar statements a few weeks ago, as did King Abdullah of Jordan.
In Washington Wednesday, a representative of the autonomous, Western-protected Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq expressed doubts about attacking Baghdad.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has warned that a U.S. attack on Iraq could wreck the international coalition against terrorism and throw the Middle East into turmoil. But his conservative challenger in the September national election has not ruled out German participation.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, considered Washington's strongest ally, faces dissension within his own Labor Party, and might have to rely on support from the opposition Conservatives to enable British forces to take part in an attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.