Iraq on Friday described as "shameful" a White House ultimatum for its forces to begin withdrawing from Kuwait by noon (10 a.m. EST) Saturday and accused the United States and its allies of being eager to escalate the gulf war.

"It is an attempt on the part of President Bush and his allies to escalate the war," a spokesman for the Iraqi Information Ministry said in a statement broadcast on Baghdad Radio and monitored in Cairo. "Iraq supports the Soviet initiative to end fighting in the gulf."But Iraq did not clearly reject the possibility of a quick withdrawal.

The unidentified Iraqi spokesman called on the United Nations Security Council to send a fact-finding mission to Baghdad to investigate the damages wrought by allied bombers on Iraq and Kuwait.

"The committee is to get aquainted with the degree of civilian and economic destruction in Iraq and Kuwait," he said.

The committee's members would be comprised of countries not participating in the war in the gulf or supportive of the U.S.-led military coalition. The spokesman proposed China and the Soviet Union as members.

The Iraqi spokesman unleashed a litany of insults against Bush and attacked the ultimatum but offered no new diplomatic solutions to ending the 37-day war.

"Bush issued a final ultimatum for Iraq to withdraw by midday tomorrow, but he is deceiving nobody but himself," he said. "Bush and his shameful ultimatum must be a result of Iraq's attempts to make peace."

The spokesman told reporters that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz is authorized by Saddam Hussein to commit to whatever is agreed upon by the Soviets on their peace initiative.

Bush seeks spending OK

Bush asked Congress on Friday for $15 billion in taxpayers' money plus authority to spend $53.5 billion pledged by foreign countries to begin paying for the Persian Gulf war.White House officials said those amounts should be sufficient to cover the conflict's costs through March 31.

White House budget director Richard Darman warned that if Congress does not provide the requested money or if allied countries do not provide all the aid they have promised, "it may be necessary to seek additional foreign contributions and-or U.S. appropriations."

Additional funds also would be needed if the fighting extends beyond March 31.

Air war continues

Waves of U.S. warplanes rained napalm and deadly fuel-air bombs onto Iraqi defenses Friday, and U.S. officials accused Iraq of deliberately torching Kuwaiti oil installations.

Smoke fumed over the desert, visible 40 miles into Saudi Arabia.

Napalm, a flammable gel, was used to set fire to the oil in deep trenches dug by Iraqi defenders to slow an invasion, the U.S. command said. Heavy anti-personnel bombs were aimed at Iraqi troops.

While allied gunners hammered forward positions with artillery, allied planes flew 1,000 sorties into Kuwait alone and 100 others targeted Saddam's Republican Guard, the U.S. command said.

Congress supports Bush

Members of Congress rushed to embrace President Bush's demand for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole said the United States should insist that Iraq pay war reparations and that an international arms embargo remain in effect against Baghdad.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Friday called the Soviet-Iraqi peace initiative "a very devious proposal."

Hatch, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I'm very skeptical, and I think it's a very devious proposal.

"On the other hand, I'm optimistic in the sense that it looks as though Saddam Hussein's regime is cracking right now and they are starting to realize that they are going to be hurt very badly if they keep fighting against us."

Pilot rescued from Iraq

Capt. Scott Thomas, a F-16 pilot who ejected from his single-seat fighter after it lost an engine, collected souvenir pebbles for the rescuers he knew were racing to spirit him away before the enemy got to him.

About 100 miles north of the Saudi border and 12,000 feet above ground, an an engine failed, forcing him to eject.

After two hours, he heard a helicopter passing overhead. Minutes later, it landed, and a man raced out to get him, Thomas said.

"He was like a self-contained army. . . . He had these huge arms. He grabbed me and shuffled me into the helicopter," said the pilot. "The first thing he asked me was `Are you all right?' I said `Yes, I'm all right, let's get out of here.' "