Iraq on Monday vowed to crush any aggression by the United States and its allies. The sharply worded statement was apparently intended to counter suggestions Saddam Hussein was becoming flexible about withdrawing from Kuwait.

Also Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney said the United States is prepared to keep troops in Saudi Arabia for years if necessary. "We're there as long as the Saudis want us . . . as long as it takes to get the job done. And no one should underestimate our staying power," Cheney said in London."Time is much more likely to be on our side than it is on his side," Cheney said, referring to Saddam.

Iraq's statement in Al-Thawra, the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party, said Iraqis "are prepared to meet the American troops."

"If they start the war, we will make it a catastrophe for those who ignite it," the editorial said. "The destruction will be total."

The statement apparently referred to Saudi Arabia and other countries taking part in the U.S.-led multinational force that assembled in the Persian Gulf region after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Initially, the stated purpose of those forces was to defend Saudi Arabia, but there have been indications some Western leaders are losing patience with the effectiveness of economic sanctions and are considering an attack to drive Iraq from Kuwait. Exiled Kuwaiti officials have encouraged that course.

"We will make them be sorry for listening to the advice of their little stooges in the area," Al-Thawra said. "All the American interests and those of its allies inside and outside the region will explode, and the fires will eat them at the first hour of their aggression against Iraq."


(Additional information)

Military option

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned Iraq's President Saddam Hussein on Monday that the West and its allies have not ruled out military action to drive Iraqi military forces from Kuwait.

"I hope it will be possible to resolve all of this without resort to war," he said in British television interviews during a visit for talks later Monday with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Defense Secretary Tom King on the gulf crisis.

But Cheney also hammered on a message stressed in recent days by British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, adding that "He (Saddam) has to understand the message that he has been given repeatedly - we haven't ruled out any option."

Cheney, who will make an unusual four-day visit to Moscow beginning on Tuesday and go to Paris before returning home next Monday, declined to set "artificial deadlines on a decision to go to war" over a U.N. demand that Iraq end its occupation of Kuwait.