Recent Iraqi moves hint at fear of further combat WAR IN THE GULF

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In his latest diplomatic moves, Saddam Hussein has given the clearest signal to date that he fears that full-scale ground battles against U.S.-led forces will lead to the destruction of Iraq's army and of his regime, observers say.

Mr. Hussein's actions suggest that the Iraqi president no longer sees a ground war as an opportunity to bloody U.S. troops, they said, but as a serious threat to his own survival.


Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council has reversed its policies in recent days for no obvious reason except fear of eventual defeat, the sources say.

Iraq offered to withdraw from Kuwait and sent Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to Moscow to discuss a Soviet peace proposal. Military and diplomatic analysts say those activities were prompted by fears of an imminent coalition ground offensive.


Soviet officials may have offered Mr. Aziz information about the size and deployment of coalition forces. But U.S. military officers said they were confident that the main effect would be to persuade Mr. Aziz that Iraq had little or no chance to withstand an allied attack.

Mr. Hussein, analysts say, has little choice but to try to delay a land battle. If he allows elite army units to be decimated, he risks losing not only men and equipment but also the military's loyalty to his regime.

U.S. military officers report that anti-Hussein protests are occurring inside Iraq, while Western journalists there report hearing widespread criticism of both the leadership and the war.

Iraq has already suffered high losses, according to one U.S. officer.

"I think they've suffered horrendous casualties, not only just killed, but wounded," the officer said. He attributed some of the casualties to a collapse in Iraq's medical care.

The most recent estimate of casualties was reported Tuesday by Iran's official news agency, quoting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi. Mr. Hammadi was said to have told Iranian officials that 20,000 people had been killed and an additional 60,000 injured.

U.S. officers maintain that they have not tried to calculate Iraqi casualties but estimate that many infantry and armored units in Kuwait have lost at least 25 percent of their men and equipment.

Officers say Iraq would keep intact the bulk of its military if fighting came to an end now.


Iraq protected about half of its most advanced aircraft by flying them to Iran, while its tank and artillery forces -- even after more than a month of around-the-clock air strikes -- remain the largest in the region.