BAGHDAD, Iraq – As U.S. and British troops steadily move into the Gulf, President Saddam Hussein met with Iraqi army and militia commanders for the third day, this time urging them not to fear the technologically superior enemy.
Iraq also said it was ready for war with the United States, as doubts about their commitment to abandon weapons of mass destruction circulate throughout the world.
"In aerial combat, there is a disparity in weapons, but on the ground, men fight with their guns and it's enough for the men to have bombs, bullets, a loaf of bread, water and a gun," Saddam was quoted as saying. As long as Iraqi forces receive the support of the people, "the enemy will be defeated," Saddam added.
"The aggressors in Washington and London are preparing for a devastating aggression against ... the people of Iraq," Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told a visiting South African delegation Wednesday.
Aziz also repeated Iraqi allegations that U.N. inspectors, who returned to Iraq in November after a four-year hiatus, are spies who are overstepping their mandate to search for alleged weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki denied those allegations and said U.N. officials had received no formal complaint from Iraqi authorities about alleged espionage.
The United States has accused Saddam of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and says it will use force if necessary to disarm him. Iraq insists it has destroyed its banned weapons and halted its nuclear program. There have been no known instances of serious problems encountered by the inspectors.
The United States has not made public its alleged evidence that Iraq is hiding banned weapons, saying it would make it harder to fight a war and endanger troops.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in Moscow Wednesday that all countries with specific information must convey it to the inspectors. He and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov also said the international community must maintain a united front when dealing with Iraq.
Washington has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to go it alone to disarm Iraq.
The American battle staff that would run a military campaign against Iraq is beginning to assemble at a command post in the small Gulf state of Qatar, U.S. officials said.
Tens of thousands more combat forces are scheduled to flow into the region over the next few weeks. Some U.S. soldiers landed Wednesday in neighboring Kuwait, but U.S. officials refused to say how many or identify their units.
Among the other forces expected to deploy from U.S. bases in the next several days are F-15 fighters and B-1B bombers. Still, U.S. and British officials insist war is neither imminent nor inevitable.
With tensions rising, Philippine Foreign Minister Blas Ople said Arab governments were trying to persuade Saddam to step down and go into exile. Ople, speaking to reporters in Manila, said he learned of those efforts from Arab ambassadors, but he refused to identify them.
The German newspaper Tageszeitung, in a report for publication Thursday, said Russian officials had been in Baghdad since November evaluating the chances that Saddam would step down.
Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an unidentified "high-ranking Russian official" as denying that Moscow was working toward Saddam's departure. Iraq's ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf, told the Interfax news agency that Saddam will not leave his country and will "fight to the last drop of blood."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.