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As Iraq hunkers down, Hussein talks on CBS

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February 27, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, police deployed around key western Baghdad installations Wednesday in their first major drill of wartime defense. Saddam Hussein ordered every Iraqi to dig a trench for protection during war.

Meanwhile, in a television interview with CBS anchor Dan Rather, Hussein said the country is hoping the United States does not attack, but is bracing for war and said, "We are not going to succumb."

Two French Mirage reconnaissance planes flew over Iraq in support of U.N. weapons inspections for the first time, Iraq's Foreign Ministry said. Three American U-2 spy planes, which fly at higher altitudes than the Mirage, have already made similar runs.

Civilian cars and trucks packed with police cruised the streets. A Jeep was parked on a downtown street, mounted with an antiaircraft gun.

People went about their business normally. Traffic was heavy, stores did bustling business and intercity buses arrived and departed.

Hussein met with the governors of Iraq's 18 provinces with a message for their citizens: "They have to dig trenches in their gardens," the official Iraqi News Agency reported.

In the CBS interview, Hussein said his country did not lose the 1991 Persian Gulf War and would vigorously defend itself if attacked.

"It is our duty, it is our responsibility to defend our country, to defend our children, to defend our people, and we are not going to succumb, neither to the United States nor to any other power," Hussein said.

The Iraqi leader said he still hoped war could be avoided "to spare the Americans from committing such a mistake and also to spare Iraq and the Iraqi people from being involved in such an experience."

Asked if he was afraid of being killed or captured, Saddam responded: "Whatever Allah decides."

"There is no value for any life without ... faith," he said. "The believers, while taking caution and care and trying to veer out and avoid any dangers and any traps ... the believer still believes that what God decides is acceptable."

Iraq's governors said they had completed preparations "to confront the invaders," the news agency said, forming "jihad groups of clerics and tribesmen to fight the invaders, and commando units to hunt helicopters."

Even as Iraq prepared for war, it signaled it wanted peace. Newspapers appealed Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council to reject appeals from the United States to support a resolution authorizing an attack.

"Members have a great responsibility ... to make sure that the Security Council is a tool to preserve security, not a tool or a cover used to wage aggressive wars," Al-Thawra, the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party, said in a front-page editorial.

U.N. inspectors visited a pit Wednesday to verify that Iraq, as it claims, unilaterally destroyed R-400 aerial bombs filled with biological weapons in 1991, according to inspectors' spokesman Hiro Ueki. Another team surveyed the site from the air.

At another site, Iraqi workers and U.N. inspectors drilled holes to disable 155mm artillery shells filled with burning mustard gas after a weeklong technical delay. Iraqi official Faisal Fahn held up a shell with a hole drilled in it.

"One shell was destroyed today, and the remaining shells will be destroyed tomorrow," he said.

U.N. inspectors also visited two missile facilities, two acid factories, a cement plant and a hospital, Ueki said.

Nuclear inspectors interviewed two engineers who worked on Iraq's gas centrifuge enrichment program, he said. Chemical and biological inspectors haven't conducted an interview since Feb. 7 because of a dispute over whether scientists can record the questioning.

CBS rejects White House rebuttal

CBS News' exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein, broadcast Wednesday night, led to a disagreement between the network and the White House on Wednesday after CBS declined a request to have a White House representative appear during the interview to rebut claims made by the Iraqi president.

CBS first told the White House that it would grant the request if President Bush himself wanted to appear to comment on the interview, then amended its permission to include Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said: "The White House and CBS do not see eye to eye on this."

But he added: "It's propaganda; it's lies from a dictator, a torturer and a murderer." He said it would have been appropriate for either him or Dan Bartlett, the White House communications chief, to be allowed to rebut Saddam's comments.

The CBS News president, Andrew Heyward, said the interview was legitimate, and conducted by "one of the most experienced journalists in the world, with a subject who has not spoken to an American journalist in 12 years."

Heyward added, "It appeared within the proper context, with tough, direct questions and perspective provided. This was not the Iraqi State of the Union Address. The White House is treating this as though it was an unfiltered message from Osama bin Laden."

-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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