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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqis Party, U.S. Plots Invasion

TIKRIT, Iraq -- Faced with U.S. threats to topple President Saddam Hussein, Iraq brought five days of celebrations for his birthday to a climax Sunday with a massive parade designed to show his popular support.

More than 100,000 Iraqis took part in a noisy procession at Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, 170 kilometers north of Baghdad.

"Bush, Bush, listen well, we all love Saddam Hussein," crowds shouted as they surged past a newly built podium where Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, Cabinet ministers and ruling Baath Party officials watched the spectacle.

The Iraqi leader, 65 years old Sunday, was nowhere in sight, choosing to stay away as he has done in recent years.

U.S. President George W. Bush has branded Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, as part of an "axis of evil," prompting speculation internationally and in Iraq that the United States might attack.

The New York Times reported in Sunday editions that the Bush administration was plotting a potential major air campaign and ground invasion early next year to topple the Iraqi government.

The Bush administration, in developing a potential approach for toppling Saddam, is concentrating its attention on a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops, the newspaper reported.

That approach has been adopted after concluding that a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed and that a proxy battle using local forces there would be insufficient to bring a change in power.

But senior officials now acknowledge that any offensive would probably be delayed until early next year, allowing time to create the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions, said the New York Times. These include avoiding summer combat in bulky chemical suits, preparing for a global oil price shock, and waiting until there is progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This year's birthday parade for the Iraqi president was organized by Iraq's ruling Baath Party and was strong on pro-Palestinian symbols.

"We represent the fighters who carry out suicide attacks," said Nour Abdel-Latif, 15, from Ramadi near Iraq's border with Jordan.

She was one of 50 teenage girls wearing black facemasks and carrying cardboard swords.

A large panorama painted behind them moved from early Islamic battles in Iraq to the ongoing Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Standing in for Saddam, senior Baath official Ali Hassan al- Majeed received customary gifts for the Iraqi leader.

The gifts included models in gold and silver of the al-Aqsa mosque in Arab East Jerusalem, a symbol of the Palestinian fight for independence, and another of Saddam in battle on a horse, mounted on top of a tank.

Saddam has been president of Iraq since 1979 but in charge since the late 1960s. He is often characterized by the state as the builder of modern Iraq, now with a population of 23 million people.

But since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq has been under United Nations sanctions that have ravaged the country's economy, health and education.

For years, official U.S. policy has been to work for a "regime change" in Iraq.

However, since the Sept. 11 strikes, which exposed the United States' vulnerability to attack, the Bush administration has repeatedly said it has to act to prevent the possibility of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction. (Reuters, NYT)