NICOSIA, Cyprus -- President Bush sent a firm warning to the Iraqi people yesterday in a taped message aired on Baghdad television: Their country stands "on the brink of war. ... [The] Iraqi leadership has miscalculated."
In words clearly designed to drive a wedge between his viewers and President Saddam Hussein's ruling regime, Mr. Bush termed the invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2 "an unprovoked attack on a small nation that posed no threat to your own."
"Kuwait was the victim, Iraq the aggressor," he said.
The broadcast was immediately followed by an Iraqi rebuttal that said Mr. Bush was lying.
In his speech, Mr. Bush stood before his desk in the Oval Office and declared: "Let there be no misunderstanding. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. I've said many times and I will repeat right now: Our only object is to oppose the invasion ordered by Saddam Hussein."
His eight-minute message was aired shortly after 7 p.m. in Baghdad, delivered in English with a voice-over White House translation and subtitles in Arabic. It was taped Wednesday after an Iraqi information official said that Baghdad would accept and telecast the president's remarks. The tape was delivered to Baghdad by a U.S. diplomatic courier and handed to Iraqi authorities by the charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The Iraqi rebuttal was twice as long as the president's message. It accused Mr. Bush of lying and said he was naive to think that the 17 million Iraqis would hold a different view from that of Mr. Hussein, "a son of his country ... loved by the people." It accused Washington and Israel -- "the Zionist entity" -- of manipulating international response to the invasion and said Mr. Bush wanted "to become the dictator of the whole world."
Later, thousands of Iraqi demonstrators marched through Baghdad's streets, calling for "Death to Bush, Death to America!"
In his address, Mr. Bush outlined past U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, and the Arab League majorities that "have condemned a brother Arab state."
"Iraq stands isolated and alone," he said.
Referring to Iraq's grueling 1980-1988 war with Iran, launched by Mr. Hussein, Mr. Bush added: "I do not believe that you, the people of Iraq, want war. You've borne untold suffering and hardship. ... No one knows what Iraq might be today, what prosperity and peace you might now enjoy, had your leaders not plunged you into war.
"Now, once again, Iraq finds itself on the brink of war. Once again, the same Iraqi leadership has miscalculated. Once again, the Iraqi people face tragedy.
"Saddam Hussein has told you that Iraqi troops were invited into Kuwait. That's not true. In fact, in the face of far superior force, the people of Kuwait are bravely resisting this occupation. Your own returning soldiers will tell you the Kuwaitis are fighting valiantly in any way they can.
"Saddam Hussein tells you that this crisis is a struggle between Iraq and the United States. That's not true. In fact, it is Iraq against the world."
In the 45-day confrontation in the Persian Gulf, marked by a massive buildup of Western and allied Arab forces in Saudi Arabia and the gulf sheikdoms, there has been no visible sign of open discontent among Iraqis. A heavy security apparatus has smothered opposition since Mr. Hussein took power, and the Iraqi president grew in stature during the war against Iran, a popularity molded by an official personality cult that has made his face visible on signboards, shops and offices around the nation.
"War is not inevitable," Mr. Bush told his audience, which was hearing the U.S. president for the first time while American television viewers have been inundated by Mr. Hussein's pronouncements on developments. "It is still possible to bring this crisis to a peaceful end. No one -- not the American people, not this president -- wants war."
[In another development yesterday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal traveled to Moscow, where officials said he would sign a treaty re-establishing diplomatic relations between the countries, which were broken in 1938, Tass reported.]