Iraq Says It Will Expel American Members of U.N. Weapons Inspection Teams if the U.N. Security Council Votes To Tighten Sanctions Against Iraq

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf also said that the United States has more than doubled its surveillance flights over the country, charging that the Americans ``deliberately are trying to push the region to a crisis.''

Iraq also has the right to try to shoot down American spy planes, al-Sahhaf said during a Baghdad news conference carried by the Cable News Network.

His comments came as the Security Council prepared to vote on a resolution increasing sanctions against the government of Saddam Hussein. The resolution, authored by the United States and Britain, would condemn Iraq for its action against American inspectors and ban foreign travel by some Iraqi officials.

Asked if a council vote to condemn would lead to the expulsion of the six American inspectors in Baghdad, Al-Sahhaf said: ``Definitely yes. Whether it is this day or that day, that is a detail. Definitely yes.''

Al-Sahhaf also appealed to Arab Gulf states to stop allowing their territory to be used as bases for U.S. military forces. He specifically mentioned Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. Air Force bases some of the planes used to patrol ``no fly'' zones in Iraq.

Earlier today, Iraqi authorities again turned away U.S. weapons inspectors _ the ninth time in ten days _ and youths carrying anti-American banners marched through Baghdad. The protesters accused the United States of holding the United Nations hostage to its policies.

``Saddam is our hero and we will never abandon him,'' said Ali Mahmoud, 15, one of about 4,000 people assembled by the state-sponsored General Union for Iraqi Youth.

The boisterous demonstration ended at the office of the U.N. Development Program. There, protesters handed over a letter condemning U.N. resolutions against Iraq since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait _ a move that led to the Persian Gulf War.

On the grounds of President Saddam Hussein's main palace in Baghdad, hundreds of Iraqis _ including the elderly and infants _ joined crowds already camped there to shield the palace from any U.S. attack.

Palace workers handed out food to people, some of whom held Iraqi flags and Saddam portraits or shouted, ``Down with America!''

The U.S.-British resolution being considered at the United Nations also would suspend further reviews of economic sanctions against Iraq until the weapons inspectors certify that Baghdad is cooperating.

The council has said that the sweeping sanctions imposed after the invasion of Kuwait will not be lifted until the inspectors determine that Baghdad has complied with U.N. orders to destroy all long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

In Kuwait, meanwhile, Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command, wrapped up talks with Crown Prince Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, Defense Minister Sheik Salem al-Sabah and Lt. Gen. Ali Al-Momen, the Kuwaiti chief of staff.

The American Embassy in Kuwait said the talks were about ``the current situation in the region,'' but did not elaborate.