The Iraqi deserter covered his face and wept -- fearing that Saddam Hussein's loyalists may retaliate against his family. The soldier from a front-line unit was among at least 18 Iraqi deserters who staggered into the Kurdish town of Kalak as U-S warplanes stepped up airstrikes on Iraqi positions. Through an interpreter, he said, "We only prayed we'd stay alive long enough to get a chance to escape." He said Iraqi commanders told them that America wants to take Iraq's oil. "But we are not so stupid," he said. "We know how Saddam rules the country. We know in our hearts we'd be better off without him."