Iraqi President Saddam Hussein planned to invade Kuwait and Saudi Arabia this month but called off the attack when one of his top aides defected to Jordan, the defector said Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, who was head of the country's clandestine weapons program and is Saddam's son-in-law, said he attended meetings of the Cabinet and the Revolutionary Command Council in which the invasions were discussed."All army units were informed to enter Kuwait and the eastern parts of Saudi Arabia," he told The Associated Press in his first interview since an Aug. 12 news conference. "The move was reversed after . . . our departure."
There was no way to independently confirm al-Majid's claims. As a newly converted Iraqi opposition figure, it would be in his interest to play up any hints that Iraq was planning such moves.
However, the fact that al-Majid was such a senior figure in the Iraqi regime, serving as industry minister in addition to his other posts, adds to his credibility.
Al-Majid was granted asylum in Jordan after defecting Aug. 8 with his brother Saddam Kamel and their wives - both daughters of Saddam Hussein.
The defections - and intelligence reports that all elements of the Iraqi armed forces were making "unusual" movements in southern Iraq - prompted Washington to move warships and military supplies toward the Persian Gulf.
President Clinton vowed to protect Jordan against any Iraqi reprisal for granting the asylum.
Last week, U.S. officials said al-Majid told them Saddam had contemplated attacking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. But the officials did not indicate that he had a concrete plan, or that an invasion might be imminent.
In the telephone interview Sunday, however, al-Majid said Iraq was on the verge of attacking when he defected.
"The latest movement of a large number of troops toward Basra (a city in southern Iraq near the Kuwaiti border) was aimed at entering Kuwait," he said.
Iraq has denied its troop movements were unusual, saying only that its armed forces recently held several training exercises. It accuses the United States of whipping up hysteria and spreading false fears of war.
Al-Majid, who is in his early 40s, said he defected because he "could not continue to tolerate the oppression of the Iraqi people and the savagery of the regime."
He has vowed to topple Saddam, and said Sunday that his countrymen "must be prepared for a new era," where "democracy and political pluralism will prevail."
The defector said Ali Hassan al-Majid, his uncle and an adviser to Saddam, met him in Jordan last week and "warned me against speaking out against and antagonizing the regime." Al-Majid said, without elaborating, that Saddam had sent agents to assassinate him shortly before his Aug. 12 news conference.
The former brains behind Iraq's secret weapons program, al-Majid said he had nothing new to reveal about Saddam's clandestine arms development. "The regime has released all the secrets of its weapons program," he said.