Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, some shouting "Victory to Saddam," marched through the Iraqi capital Tuesday in a "Day of Courage" and support for their leader as the country faced possible war.
"We will die for you, Saddam," yelled women carrying AK-47 rifles. Others in Arab robes danced with pitchforks and swords as symbols of the Iraqi president's vow that any war would become a popular war in Iraq.Millions across the country also demonstrated, according to Iraqi radio, which said it was Iraq's largest-ever popular outpouring.
The radio referred to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as "Mujahid" or holy warrior, and called Tuesday, the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, the "beginning of the end of world imperialism."
If Iraq remains in Kuwait, as it has vowed to do, it faces a possible attack by the U.S.-dominated multinational force in the Persian Gulf.
Iraq's state-run press Tuesday pledged that Kuwait will remain part of Iraq forever and warned that American soldiers who try to prevent this face "the furnace of hell."
In another development, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said Tuesday in Paris that the time was not ripe for a visit to Baghdad to promote a French peace initiative, a spokesman reported. Dumas had said Sunday that he would make the trip if it could persuade Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait.
On Monday, France introduced a peace plan to the U.N. Security Council calling for a rapid withdrawal of Iraqi forces and an eventual international conference on the Palestinian question, a long-sought goal of Iraq's.
In Baghdad, demonstrators waved Soviet-designed AK-47 rifles the government has given to militia members to fight invaders if Baghdad is attacked.
The Baghdad protest was the popular equivalent to Monday's National Assembly session that gave support to Saddam's refusal to hand back Kuwait.
In the main march in the city's mammoth Palestine Square, demonstrators included government officials, students and housewives.
"Allah-u-Akbar (God is Great)! The hour of Jihad (Holy War) has arrived!" read one of their banners.
Officials of the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party said similar demonstrations were organized in five suburban districts of Baghdad, a city of 3.8 million people.
Demonstrations were also held in the major cities of Karbala, Basra and Mosul, said party officials, who claimed at least 5 million of Iraq's 18 million people took part nationwide.