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Saddam rallies troops on TV

BAGHDAD, Iraq — With their confidence visibly bolstered by five days of fighting that has shown Iraqi troops offering stiffer resistance than expected, Iraq's leaders resurfaced Monday in a contemptuous, even cocksure mood and challenged American forces to push on across the last 50 or 60 miles of desert toward a decisive showdown in Baghdad.

President Saddam Hussein, silent since shortly after surviving an American bombing raid in the first wave of airstrikes last week, went on television with a 25-minute speech aimed at further stiffening Iraqi defenses. He said American and British forces were "in real trouble right now" after soldiers were killed, captured or taken prisoner on the drive north from Kuwait.

"Hold against them," Saddam told groups of paramilitary fighters who have harassed the allied invaders. "Hit them hard. Hit them with all force and accuracy."

Iraq's aim, Saddam said, should be to drag out the war, denying the United States and Britain the quick victory they planned and dragging them into "this quagmire."

"Today we are standing in a position that would please a friend and anger an enemy and all the infidels," he said. "But we are going to be victorious, and we are causing them to suffer.

"These are your decisive days," he added. "Hit now. According to what? According to what God has ordered you to do — 'Cut their throats, and be patient.' "

After some American officials had suggested Saddam might have been seriously injured or killed in the airstrikes that began the war, his reappearance had the effect of steadying the government, at least for now. Officials who had worried privately about a possible collapse of authority seemed to stiffen after the speech and began talking as if capture of the city could be held off for weeks or even months.

Saddam's speech was followed by a news conference by Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister who has been the Iraqi leader's principal voice to the world for more than a decade, and who had also been rumored to have been hurt or killed in last Thursday's bombing.

Aziz, 71, the fourth man in the governing hierarchy, strolled into a hotel on the Tigris River embankment fingering a Havana cigar and mocked American officials who had suggested that the air raid "decapitated" the Iraqi leadership.

"They made a great fuss about an attack on a site where they said his excellency, President Saddam Hussein, and our leadership were meeting, and they wanted to decapitate the Iraqi leadership as if we were a bunch of chickens," Aziz said.