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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Envoys: Iraq Preparing for War

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Driving past the brightly lit, monumental palaces of President Saddam Hussein, one wonders if the man the United States wants to depose ever lives in them. No one knows where the Iraqi leader is or where he sleeps.

The only regular sign that 65-year-old Saddam is well and in total control comes from Iraqi television.

It frequently shows him wearing a smart suit looking solemnly down a table with his commanders and ministers, all in military uniforms and berets, listening intently to his orders. Or it might show him receiving dignitaries.

Resident ambassadors are not permitted to accompany foreign visitors to an audience with Saddam. Instead, a presidential car will collect them and drive them to an undisclosed location for the meeting, envoys say.

None of the diplomats in Baghdad, even those based here for many years, has seen Saddam in person. They had to present their credentials to his top aide, Izzat Ibrahim, who also represents his leader at official ceremonies, including Saddam's birthday.

Before the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam would often venture out to mingle with ordinary Iraqis. He no longer appears in public or sees Western journalists. Saddam is widely believed to use lookalikes to confuse potential assassins.

Having survived many plots against his life and crushed opposition, Saddam takes charge of his own security, diplomats say. He keeps ministers and commanders guessing where the next meeting will be until the last moment.

"Saddam knows very well that he is America's enemy. He evidently believes that an attack by America is on the cards and is taking no chances," one Western envoy said.

In a country where movement is restricted and information jealously guarded, there are few visible signs of military buildups or troop movements, but there is evidence the government is girding itself for war.

Saddam has ordered double food rations to be provided for the population for two months in the event of war, his trade minister announced recently. Fuel dumps are being restocked and air-raid warning sirens tested in preparation.

Domestically, Saddam has made plans to nip any unrest in the bud to avoid a repeat of the 1991 post-Gulf War revolts by Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north. He appointed loyal army commanders as provincial governors with orders to respond swiftly to any trouble, diplomats said.

Diplomats expect Saddam's hand-picked and well-equipped elite republican guards to resist any U.S. assault fiercely. Now under the command of Saddam's youngest son, Qussai, they will know they are fighting for their survival.

Any U.S. invasion that involves street fighting in population centers could prove more costly to combatants and civilians than the U.S.-led war against Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors in Afghanistan, diplomats said.

"Dealing with a terrorist organization like al-Qaida moving around in the mountains of Afghanistan was difficult," one said.

"True, Baghdad does not have mountains, but it is a densely populated city that presents a different order of difficulty, and the president prepared his bunkers long ago."

Saddam said Monday that Iraq will decide about cooperating with UN inspectors once a new resolution is approved, Iraqi TV reported.

"Iraq will look into whether it will deal with a resolution after it is issued by the Security Council," state-run television quoted Saddam as saying at a meeting with Austrian politician Jorg Haider.