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Iraqis greet U.N. action with rhetoric, demonstrations

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'Saddam is our hero, we will never abandon him'

In this story: November 12, 1997
Web posted at: 7:54 p.m. EST (0054 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Strident rhetoric and government-organized demonstrations were Iraq's response to the U.N. Security Council vote condemning it Wednesday, and there were other signs that the country is bracing itself for a confrontation with its Gulf War adversaries.

About 4,000 people -- most of them young students -- marched through the streets of the capital Wednesday, chanting anti-American slogans and praising President Saddam Hussein. The march was sponsored by the General Union for Iraqi Youth.

"Saddam is our hero and we will never abandon him," said Ali Mahmoud, a 15-year-old protester.

The boisterous demonstration -- the largest in a series of such protests -- ended at a U.N. Development Program office where the demonstrators delivered a letter condemning U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

Hundreds of Iraqis also joined crowds already camped on the grounds of Saddam's main palace in Baghdad to shield it from any possible attack. The government quickly distributed food to the new arrivals, a considerable inducement in a country where U.N. economic sanctions have reduced the average Iraqi's caloric intake by one-third.

American inspectors turned away again

Elsewhere in the country, U.N. weapons inspection teams with American members were turned away from Iraqi weapons sites by officials enforcing an October 29 decision to expel American inspectors from the country.

When one such team turned to leave, an Iraqi official asked, "why are you canceling the inspection?"

"Because our team could not enter because one of the Americans was a member," replied a U.N. inspector.

Iraq has said that the inspection teams are welcome as long as they do not include Americans who, they claim, are trying to sabotage Iraq's efforts to prove it has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction. Such proof is necessary before the United Nations will lift the crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

But the United Nations has instructed its teams to leave the sites if Americans are not admitted, making Wednesday the ninth time in 10 days that inspectors have left without performing their inspection.

Iraq initially gave the Americans a week to leave, but later delayed their expulsion until Iraq had pleaded its case to the Security Council.

After the council condemned Iraq and put a travel ban on the officials who turn the teams away, Aziz announced that the Americans would be expelled as planned.

Iraq beefs up missile site

the stare

"We are not doing any harm to them," Aziz told CNN Wednesday evening, but he said that the Iraqi decision to expel them "must be implemented."

Asked when, he replied, "I don't know, but it will be done in the proper period."

Earlier in the day, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf called President Clinton's claim that Iraq is a danger to the world "a sheer lie" by a superpower attempting to "absolve the already controversial integrity of its president."

Al-Sahhaf also claimed that U.S. military flights over Iraq have doubled since the crisis began and repeated Iraq's warning that "Whenever we see it proper to shoot them, we will shoot them."

Lending further substance to reports that Iraq is gearing up for a confrontation is word that Iraq has improved at least one surface-to-air (SAM) missile site near the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

Sources told CNN that the Iraqis added another missile launcher and other equipment to a site in an area where U.S. flights patrolling the no-fly zone are common.

There are two no-fly zones in Iraq. The one in northern Iraq was established to keep the Iraqis from attacking rebellious Kurds. The one in the south, where the Iraqis improved a missile site, was set up to prevent the Iraqis from attacking Shi'ite Muslims.

Another U-2 flight due soon

The United States has warned Iraq against improving its missile sites, and while it is technically a violation, the Pentagon says it is not enough of a threat at the moment to warrant any action.

However, any attempt to fire on U.N. flights would be another matter altogether. An American-manned U-2 flew over Iraq for about three hours Tuesday and was not fired upon. The Iraqis said it was out of range.

Sources say another is scheduled to fly some time this week -- perhaps Thursday or Friday.

Although Baghdad was generally calm Wednesday, newspapers are headlining the crisis and there are long lines at gas stations, indicating that some Iraqis believe there may, indeed, be trouble ahead.

Correspondents Peter Arnett and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

 
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