B A G H D A D, Iraq, Jan. 22, 2003 -- Iraq's deputy prime minister and adviser to Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, told ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings that the Iraqi army is ready to fight a war with the United States and American soldier will be met with "bullets," not "flowers."
The following are excerpts from Aziz's exclusive interview with Jennings, who is reporting from Baghdad:
Jennings: As I came into the ministry this morning, I thought to myself, "target." Do you think the same thing?
Aziz: This building was targeted in 1991, so it won't be a surprise if it's a target again.
Jennings : You are also on the list that Bush administration has of the Iraqi leadership. Where do you think you are on that list?
Aziz: I'm not surprised that they hate me so much because I'm an Iraqi patriot, I love my country, I defend the cause of my country. The Bush administration is now the enemy of Iraq and the people of Iraq.
Jennings : What do you think you can do for your country at this point?
Aziz: We have been serving our country for four decades now and we have built this country, developed this country, provided a better life for out people until the aggression in 1991 and sanctions. But despite the aggression and the sanctions, we did our best to keep a reasonable standard of living for our people. Without the war, without the sanctions, we could make life better for the Iraqi people and there is a significant development in all fields.
Jennings : Do you accept that if the U.S. attacks Iraq, it will be over for you and the leadership of Saddam Hussein?
Aziz: Well, they did attack us in 1991, and they thought the same thing as you are saying now. But we survived and we continue our mission of leading this country to the best that we can.
Avoiding War Through Exile
Jennings : It has been suggested, Mr. Minister, that war could be avoided, that the Iraqi people need not go through war if Saddam Hussein would step down and go into exile.
Aziz: We're saying intimidation cannot be accepted. We cannot accept any interference into our internal affairs. If that succeeds, America could do it anywhere in the world, you see.
We are not a country or a people or a nation that accepts such instructions from abroad. Saddam Hussein is the leader of Iraq. He was born in Iraq and he loves Iraq and he will continue leading Iraq until the last minute of his life. We in the leadership, like him are going to stay in our homeland and fight for our homeland to the last day of our lives.
Jennings : Why is it not reasonable for him to consider stepping down and going into exile in order to assist the Iraqi people, in order to spare them from the pain of war?
Aziz: Nobody will accept a voluntary surrender and Saddam Hussein and myself and all people like us are not going to accept surrender voluntarily.
Jennings : Have you considered exile yourself?
Jennings: What about your family?
Aziz: My family is with me, it will remain with me, and face the same fate I'm facing.
Jennings : You have no anxiety at all?
Aziz: Well, every man who's a father and a grandfather might have anxiety about his children and grandchildren in times of war, but that doesn't mean we are going to leave and surrender to the Americans, just to have safety. We're not going to do that.
‘Well-Prepared For War’
Jennings : The Bush administration's assessment of your army … is that it will be no trouble whatsoever. There may be other issues, but the army, itself, is not a powerful force.
Aziz: That's what they think, but the army might not have the same equipment as the Americans have, but the army is well-equipped to fight within its homeland and fight an aggressor.
Jennings : Does this mean, from your point of view, that this will be a battle that you will choose to fight in and around the cities?
Aziz: We'll fight any way we can win.
Jennings : You're a practical man —
Aziz: Yes, I am.
Jennings: What makes you think you can win?
Aziz: Because we are well-prepared for war. We are an experienced nation. We fought for eight years with Iran. Many people thought we would lose; we did not. We won the battle in the end.
Jennings : President Bush has been told by some of his advisors that the Iraqi people will throw flowers at American soldiers.
Aziz: I think they are cheating him, and they are cheating the American public opinion. American soldiers will not be received by flowers; they will be received by bullets.