As U.S. troops deploy around Iraq, Saddam Hussein sought Saturday to reassure Jordan while accusing the United States of whipping up hysteria and spreading false fears of war.
“Why Does America Heighten the Situation?” asked a headline in the state-run daily Al-Jumhouriya, a day after the Pentagon announced that 1,400 U.S. soldiers are being sent to Kuwait for a military exercise.
Some 2,000 U.S. Marines and Special Forces are also in Jordan, Iraq’s western neighbor, for joint maneuvers, and Washington is moving warships and military supplies toward the Persian Gulf to deter possible military action by Iraq.
The United States has been alarmed by unusual Iraqi troop movements south of Baghdad following the defections to Jordan this month of two Iraqi officials close to Saddam. U.S. officials say the Iraqi defectors indicated he had contemplated attacking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
Iraq denies it is engaged in any unusual military activity, but says its armed forces have held several training exercises lately.
Kuwait said Saturday that while it is concerned about the Iraqi troop movements, Saddam’s forces have not advanced south of a boundary line agreed to last year.
Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, head of Iraq’s weapons program, and his brother defected to Jordan Aug. 8 along with their wives - both Saddam’s daughters.
More defections were reported Saturday. An Iraqi opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said in Damascus, Syria, that another of Saddam’s advisers has also defected with a “large number” of military officers.
It identified him as another of al-Majid’s kinsmen, Hashem Hassan al-Majid, and said Iraqi security forces were searching for the defectors in northern Iraq after demolishing their homes. There was no independent verification of the claim.
The exercises in Kuwait had been scheduled for later this year, but now will begin this week, apparently to intensify U.S. efforts to keep Saddam off balance.
The United States is sending 1,400 soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, to man tanks, artillery and other equipment in Kuwait.
The joint exercises that began Friday in Jordan also were previously scheduled, but took on new significance in light of President Clinton’s pledge two weeks ago to protect Jordan from any reprisals by Iraq for granting the defectors asylum.
The Iraqi newspaper called the U.S. military moves part of propaganda campaign against it.
“America is behaving in a hysterical manner,” Al-Jumhouriya said. “America is not only declaring an all-out media war against Iraq, but it is trying to convince world public opinion that this war in the region is real.”
Saddam’s regime said Saturday that it wants to boost Iraq’s relations with Jordan, apparently seeking to reassure Amman that it does not plan any retaliatory action after the kingdom gave asylum to the top-ranking Iraqi defectors.
In Kuwait, officials said Saddam’s forces have not moved south of the 32nd parallel, the boundary of a “no-fly zone” for Iraqi warplanes the United States imposed in August 1992. Baghdad agreed last year not to deploy offensive forces beyond that line.
The 32nd parallel is about 80 miles south of Baghdad and 130 miles north of the Kuwaiti border.