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Iraq: Hussein Denounces Start Of War, World Reaction Mixed

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has appeared on state television to denounce the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, vowing ultimate victory. Meanwhile, world reaction to U.S. strikes has been vocal. Australia, Japan, Britain, and the Philippines are expressing support for U.S. actions, while reaction from other countries in Asia and Europe has been negative.

Prague, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A defiant Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi state television this morning, hours after the start of U.S.-led military operations aimed at toppling and disarming his regime.

Hussein, dressed in a military uniform and reading from a prepared script, informed the Iraqi people that U.S. President George W. Bush had begun the attack against his country: "Today, March 20, 2003, the criminal and thoughtless Bush Jr. committed a crime against humanity that he had long threatened us with."

Hussein said Iraq's armed forces would fight and ultimately defeat the Americans and their allies. The Iraqi leader's speech appeared timed and phrased to dispel any rumors that he might have been hurt or killed in the initial volley of U.S. bombing.

Although it was impossible to determine whether Hussein's television appearance was live, the impromptu look of the studio, which seemed cramped and hastily arranged, as well as Hussein's mention of today's date, indicated the speech was fresh.

Contrary to expectations, the U.S.-led campaign did not begin with a massive bombardment, but with a series of about 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles that struck targets primarily in the eastern and southern suburbs of Baghdad.

Uday al-Taei, a senior Iraqi information ministry official, told reporters that initial information indicates that several Iraqi civilians were wounded in the strikes.

In London, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said this morning that overnight operations had only been "preliminary" and that more and heavier strikes will follow soon.

U.S. government sources said the dawn raids had been targeted against senior figures in Hussein's administration. The effectiveness of these initial raids could not be immediately assessed, however.

So far, the only evidence of American success was yesterday's surrender by 17 Iraqi soldiers on the Kuwait border, before the start of hostilities.

But Bush, in a televised speech to the American people announcing the start of the military campaign, left no doubt that the United States intends to use all the military might at its disposal to ensure victory: "Now the conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half-measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory."

Reports from Kuwait say two small Iraqi missiles struck the country's northern desert today in apparent response to the U.S. missile strikes, causing no casualties. The area is reported to be located about 100 kilometers from the capital, Kuwait City.

Global reaction to the start of U.S. military action has been mixed. Leaders in Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines expressed support for President Bush's decision to follow through on his threat to use force. Australian Prime Minister John Howard spoke to Australian politicians and officers at a church service in the capital, Canberra: "Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil."

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in Tokyo that: "Unfortunately, throughout this period, Iraq did not heed the warnings from the United Nations, or thought lightly of them, it mocked the United Nations. Iraq did not show a sincere attitude. Due to this, I understand and support the start of the use of military force [against Iraq] by the United States."

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun speaking today in Seoul, said: "I think this (war) was an unavoidable step taken to eradicate weapons of mass destruction after the failure of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue peacefully."

Tens of thousands of Australians rallied in the city centers of Sydney and Melbourne to voice their opposition to the use of force in Iraq.

In other parts of the world, reaction from countries such as Russia, China, and Germany has mostly ranged from regret to condemnation.

In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov opened a cabinet meeting by criticizing the U.S. move:

"Russia's leadership expresses regret that the Iraqi crisis, the Iraqi problem is being resolved by military means -- around or without any decisions by the UN Security Council."

The official reaction from Beijing was stronger. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan, had this to say at a press briefing this morning: "This (attack on Iraq) ignores the opposition of most countries and peoples of the world and goes around the UN Security Council, which constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and basic norms of international law. We hereby express our grave concern, so we strongly urge relevant countries to immediately stop military action and go back to the right path to find a political settlement to the Iraq issue and seek the best way to solve the Iraq problem within the UN framework."

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi speaking today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said: "The world is now at a critical juncture following the action of the United States and its allies, which will go down as a black mark in history. A large and powerful nation, along with its allies, has acted with disregard for international law, humanity, and universal justice. It has launched an attack against a sovereign state that has diminished capacity to defend itself."

Iraq's long-standing adversary Iran decried the U.S. strikes as "unjustifiable and illegitimate." Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, in a statement, warned that what he called the "heedlessness of America to the collective wisdom" would "totally destroy the achievements during half a century by nations and government for establishing cooperation for security and peace."

In Europe, the German government issued a statement expressing "grave concern" and "dismay" at the U.S. move. The French Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern," and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt condemned America's decision to renounce what he called the "international legal order."