BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP
President Saddam Hussein has ordered his party members to receive military training year-round in response to rising hostility toward Iraq, newspapers reported Saturday.
Saddam’s order, made during a Cabinet meeting Thursday, coincided with a decision by the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton to provide US$4 million to political foes of Saddam and another US$4 million in stages under a program being worked out with the Iraqi National Congress, which is trying to oust the Iraqi leader.
“Because our enemy is fighting us in all fields and under all titles, we must boost our capabilities to face the enemy in the fields we are capable of,” Saddam said in remarks carried by the official Al Qadissiya newspaper.
Military training is usually conducted during crises and summer vacations only.
The decree also allows civil servants and regular citizens to volunteer for military training. Volunteers are taught to fire automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade launchers.
Tensions between the United States and Iraq have been on the rise, mostly over a renewed attempt to have U.N. inspectors go to Iraq to look for hidden weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam recently said Iraq was under “threats and exploitation by America, which is violating its independence, sovereignty, national unity and security.”
Regional friction also increased Thursday, when Iraq accused Kuwait of digging wells that allow it to steal Iraqi oil and warned that it will take proper measures to stop its neighbor’s actions.
An official at the Iraqi Information Ministry told The Associated Press on Saturday that Iraq did not threaten anyone.
“We only said we will take measures to stop the theft of Kuwaitis to our oil. But the training of people and the Baath ruling party members will continue as a precautionary measure,” he added, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
Iraq historically has accused Kuwait of stealing its oil, one of the reasons it cited for invading its neighbor in 1990. A U.S.-led coalition army drove Iraq from Kuwait seven months later.
In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, a Foreign Ministry official said Iraq’s comments about Kuwait are similar to threats that preceded Iraq’s invasion a decade ago. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors were planning to meet in the coming days to discuss the situation and affirm solidarity with Kuwait.
Kuwaiti officials repeatedly have denied Iraq’s claims and accuse Iraq of still entertaining hostile ambitions against their territories.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Wednesday that the United States will back vigorous diplomacy with a threat of force to preserve stability through the Middle East and Persian Gulf.