French rally behind war president bashes Hussein

PARIS — PARIS -- France basked in the success of its front-line ground assault into Iraq yesterday, with French President Francois Mitterrand enjoying record public support for his decision to join American-led forces in ground combat.

In one of the most rapid public opinion polls ever prepared here, nearly four out of five French people approved the start of ground combat after Iraq failed to pull out of Kuwait by the Saturday deadline, and 43 percent said that war should not end until Saddam Hussein was out of power.


Speaking on television last night, Mr. Mitterrand reported the ground combat was going "better than expected," while cautioning against overoptimism.

Michel Rocquejeoffre, the general commanding France's 10,000 soldiers, beamed with pride as he announced France's first day in ground combat: 30 miles into Kuwait, one French soldier wounded, 1,000 Iraqi soldiers taken prisoner.


Despite the strong public support, President Mitterrand gave an impassioned defense of the decision to bypass the Soviet-mediated Iraqi offer to withdraw from Kuwait within three weeks.

Mr. Mitterrand said that France believed Iraq should have needed no more than seven days to withdraw its troops -- and persuaded Mr. Bush to extend his original four-day timetable -- that a cease-fire should not begin before the withdrawal and that only the Security Council should decide when to lift sanctions and other resolutions against Iraq.

Mr. Mitterrand argued that Saddam Hussein had had ample time and bypassed several opportunities since the August invasion to withdraw gracefully.

For the first time, the French president attacked Saddam Hussein personally, accusing him of playing for time and of willfully causing the destruction of his own country.

It was also the first time Mr. Mitterrand publicly envisioned Iraq without Saddam Hussein as chief. In each of his speeches since Jan. 15, Mr. Mitterrand has steadily toughened his position against the Iraqi.

It appeared, from Mr. Mitterrand's talk, that the Soviet-mediated offer failed not simply over the question of how much time Iraqi forces should need to leave Kuwait, but over the more fundamental matter of Mr. Hussein's lack of credibility.

Mr. Hussein's failure to show any sign of accepting the coalition's conditions seemed to have ended the uncertainty regarding his intentions among Washington's allies.

Throughout Western Europe, the fissures that had opened as Baghdad and Moscow negotiated various peace plans last week closed. West European governments were united in blaming Baghdad for failing to heed Washington's ultimatum.