Iraqi minister berates Annan
Critics of attack on Falluja attracts defense head's wrath
FALLUJA, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's interim defense minister Hazem Sha'alan has lashed out at U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and leaders of other Arab countries during a pep talk for Iraqi troops before an expected assault on the insurgent-held city of Falluja.
Annan warned in a letter dated October 31 to the United States, Britain and Iraq that such an assault would have a "negative impact" on the prospects for elections, now scheduled for January.
But Sha'alan said on Sunday that Annan did nothing to help Iraqis under the rule of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
"Where was Kofi Annan when Saddam was slaughtering the Iraqis like sheep?" Sha'alan said.
"Where were the calls we hear from Arab and Islamic countries when Saddam was messing up the country?"
With thousands of U.S. troops poised to launch a major assault on Falluja, which has been under insurgent control for months, Sha'alan told the Iraqi troops set to participate in the offensive that they were "the defenders of democracy" who would rescue a city held hostage.
"Those who call not to fight the criminals, we say to them, 'You are the criminals.' They are the criminals," he said.
"How could you shake hands with Saddam Hussein before? You were a slave to Saddam Hussein, and today you try your best to restore dictatorship and crime, but under a new umbrella -- that is the umbrella of Islam."
The troops crowded in to hear him, raising their rifles into the air and cheering, dancing and singing at the end.
Sha'alan predicted the insurgents, who have been in effective control of Falluja for months, would "run away like rats" when attacked.
"We will chase them from house to house, from room to room," he said.
The U.S. military censored the report of Sha'alan's remarks before allowing it to be sent to media participating in the pool.
Iraqi special forces backed by U.S. Marines seized Falluja's main hospital late Sunday, but it remains unclear when the main assault into the city will begin.