AMMAN, Jordan — PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, just back from Baghdad and talks with Saddam Hussein, said here Saturday that the Iraqi president is brimming with confidence--for peace or war.
And the Palestinian leader implied that he had given Hussein encouragement from his own ordeal in the 1982 Israeli siege of Palestine Liberation Organization forces in Beirut.
"Before meeting him, I was a little bit worried about his military position, according to what I had been informed and read and heard from different sources about his losses," Arafat told a jammed press conference in an Amman villa. "Believe me . . . he completely has his full confidence."
Arafat added that he and Hussein discussed what the PLO leader called a "peaceful initiative," Iraq's suggestion Friday--loaded with conditions and rejected by President Bush and the allies as a "cruel hoax"--that it might withdraw from Kuwait. But he said he and Hussein agreed that "the other side will continue the aggression, the war, this mad war against Iraq."
Declaring that Bush had no right to reject the Iraqi proposal without further study, the animated PLO leader, wearing his familiar black-and-white checked \o7 kaffiyeh\f7 , said Hussein had reassured him "his situation is strong and all that had been declared is not true."
Even if Baghdad is besieged, he claimed, the Iraqi leader can hold out.
"I was alone," he said of his experience in Beirut. "I had no missiles, I had no tanks, I had no airplanes. . . . I had no non-conventional weapons in Beirut, and I stayed three months."
But at the end, Arafat failed to say, he and his PLO soldiers left the Lebanese capital, by ship, under escort by a Western multinational force, with Israeli troops ringing the city.
Arafat said the Israeli generals had intended to take Beirut in 48 hours. And he said that American and European officials had informed him, directly and indirectly, that the liberation of Kuwait would take a matter of hours or three or four days.
"And now, today, it is the second month," he said. "Some of them are now saying that the land battle will not continue more than six days. Remember, it will be very long, and casualties will be very high."
Many Middle East analysts say that one of the political casualties of the war will be Arafat and his PLO. But the 65-year-old chairman denied that his influence may be on the wane because of his support for Iraq, factional fighting among his guerrillas and the assassination of three of his top lieutenants since 1988.
"We are the phoenix bird," Arafat lectured the largely European and American press corps. "You have repeated these silly slogans (of PLO decline) many times. No. And be sure no security, no peace, no stability in this area (can be achieved) by over-jumping the Palestinian rights and the PLO. You have your oil. O-I-L. There is P-L-O. This is the Saddam initiative."
But there is trouble in the PLO, by some accounts attributable to its stand on the Gulf War. Only Friday, 10 Palestinians were killed and at least 30 wounded in interfactional fighting in southern Lebanon, where Arafat's mainline Fatah faction has an estimated 10,000 guerrillas.
Press reports from the Miye ou Miye Palestinian refugee camp outside the port of Sidon said that a dissident battalion leader and his men kidnaped Fatah's top Lebanese commander in a dispute over funding from the PLO treasury. The battalion commander had complained that Arafat ordered budget cuts because contributions from Gulf states allied against Iraq had dried up.
Politically, Arafat has also taken a high risk by aligning his movement against Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia--three big Arab states with the military and monetary support the PLO needs.
But Arafat, for now, has tied his wagon to Iraq and Hussein's pledge, repeated in Friday's Baghdad initiative, to stay in Kuwait unless Israel withdraws from the Palestinian-populated West Bank and Gaza Strip.