Saddam Challenges No-Fly Zones
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ President Saddam Hussein said Sunday the ``no-fly″ zones imposed on his country are illegal and vowed Iraq will fight violations of its airspace ``with all its courage and bravery.″
Saddam’s remarks to his Cabinet were his first comments on the no-fly zones since top officials said last month that Iraq would fire on Western warplanes patrolling the areas.
Saddam said the no-fly zones are ``not only a stark violation of international laws and norms, especially those of the United Nations, but a stark violation of Security Council resolutions themselves.″ His remarks were carried by the official Iraqi News Agency and later read on Iraqi television.
The no-fly zones, which cover about two-thirds of Iraq, were set up by the United States, Britain and France after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to stop Iraq from using its air force against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.
The no-fly zones are not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.
``What they are violating ... is the will of the Arab nation and the will of the Iraqi people... which is determined to fight back with all its courage and bravery,″ Saddam said.
The comments appeared to be aimed at stoking Arab anger against the United States and Britain, which launched four days of airstrikes against Iraq in mid-December.
Protesters took to the streets in several Arab capitals after the air raids, but Arab states have taken little action to support Iraq.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen met this weekend in Egypt to discuss a planned Arab League meeting that is expected to formulate the group’s stand on the airstrikes.
Saddam also sought to cast doubt on U.S. claims that its planes were firing back when they fired missiles and bombs at Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries in two recent clashes.
The U.S. claims were designed ``to calm Arab public opinion angered by the American-British colonialist aggression on Iraq,″ Saddam said. He did not, however, specifically deny that Iraqi air defenses fired first.
In both cases where U.S. planes attacked Iraqi air defense units in the past week, U.S. officials said the aircraft shot back after being fired on. Iraq claims four soldiers were killed in one incident and a farmer was killed in the second.
The U.S.-British airstrikes last month came after U.N. arms inspectors said Iraq was blocking their work.
Since those strikes, which targeted government and military installations, electricity cuts in Baghdad have increased from four hours to eight hours a day.
Iraq has said the extra cuts are due to a shortage in spare parts.
During previous major confrontations with the United States, Iraq has dismantled crucial parts of its industrial infrastructure, such as power plants, in anticipation of air attacks.
Security Council sanctions imposed against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which set off the Gulf War, cannot be lifted until arms inspectors declare that Iraq has eliminated its biological and chemical weapons and long-range missiles.
In a further move to boost support in the Islamic world, Iraq sent a delegation to Iran last week to discuss the crisis. The delegation leader, Ajeel Jalal Ismael, told the Iraqi News Agency on Sunday that Iran has agreed to release another 1,000 Iraqi prisoners of war held since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Meanwhile in Egypt, Arab diplomats speaking on customary condition of anonymity said foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen had met Saturday at Hurghada, 250 miles southeast of Cairo, to forge a united strategy on Iraq.
Arab League foreign ministers are scheduled to meet at the league’s headquarters in Cairo in late January to discuss the U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq. The diplomats said Egypt and Saudi Arabia would prefer to see bilateral discussions or small meetings to prevent Saddam’s regime from using the league as a platform for anti-Western rhetoric.