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March 24, 2003
 
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Saddam in 'Full Control,' Aziz Says

Reuters


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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said on Monday that the Iraqi leadership was "in good shape," and President Saddam Hussein was "in full control of the army and the country."

His comments, made at a news conference in the capital, were aimed at ending intense speculation in the West as to the Iraqi leader's health and whereabouts since U.S. and British warplanes and missiles began bombarding Baghdad last Thursday.

"All members of the Iraqi leadership, with the exception of one martyr who died in a battle at Najaf, are alive and in good shape, and each and every one is working efficiently," he said.

The Iraqi authorities said on Sunday that the local Najaf leader of the ruling Baath party had been killed in fighting near the town.

Iraqi state television twice aired footage of Saddam on Monday -- making a televised speech to the nation and meeting officials with his younger son Qusay. In both clips, Saddam looked relaxed.

Since the aerial assault on the capital began, there have been some reports that Saddam may have been killed. Others said he was so badly wounded he had to receive a blood transfusion.

Asked about U.S. and British officials' comments saying their forces would be advancing soon on Baghdad, Aziz said they would receive the same kind of defense and defiance they had met in southern Iraq.

"They will be welcomed (in Baghdad) in the same way they were welcomed in Umm Qasr, Faw and Nassiriya and by the Iraqi peasants who brought down the Apache (helicopter)," he said, referring to battles in southern Iraq where local troops have put up tougher resistance than many in the West had expected.

"We will receive them with the best music they have ever heard and with the finest flowers they have ever known," Aziz added, pointedly referring to U.S. comments that Iraqis would welcome U.S.-led troops "with music and flowers."

"We do not have candies to offer. We are just offering them bullets," he said.

Aziz also dismissed reports that U.S.-led forces advancing into Iraq had found a potential chemical weapons plant near Najaf.

"This factory was visited by (U.N. weapons) inspectors. It's just a small and isolated factory used for civilian purposes," Aziz said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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