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S P E C I A L: The Standoff with Iraq

Iraqis volunteering as human shields

al-Sahhaf commenting on opening dialogue with the U.S.
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Watch Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf's news conference
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6 min. 7 sec. VXtreme video
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November 14, 1997
Web posted at: 3:18 p.m. EST (2018 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq showed no sign of giving in to United Nations demands Friday, as Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said thousands of Iraqis were volunteering to act as "human shields" throughout the country.

He said they were now moving to protect industrial complexes and factories inside the Iraqi capital and throughout Iraq from air attacks.

Iraqi men, women and children began volunteering last week to move into the presidential palace, vowing to put their lives on the line to prevent an attack against the home of President Saddam Hussein.

Now, he said, popular committees were being established to put people in places that might be attacked in the event of what he described as probable U.S. military aggression.

Butler follows American orders, al-Sahhaf says

He also criticized U.N. arms inspections chairman Richard Butler for pulling all 68 inspectors out of Iraq after the country demanded that U.S. inspectors leave, saying that Butler had "lost all credibility," and that he no right to make the decision alone.

"With full confidence we see that Ambassador Butler is functioning exactly according to what the Americans are ordering him to do," al-Sahhaf said.

He said U.N. announced resumption of U-2 high-altitude surveillance flights over Iraq was an American pretext for gathering reconnaissance pictures of Iraqi's military readiness in case of military action.

He also called a U.N. Security Council statement, which condemned Iraq's singling out of American arms inspectors, "reiteration of American rhetoric." And he said member nations siding with the United States, particularly the British, were their "stooges."

'Will withstand any aggression'

He said the country expected U.S. and British buildup of military forces in the region, and shrugged off the threat an attack might pose to Iraq.

"I think in 1991 we withstood a third world war" in the Desert Storm operation, "So Iraq will withstand any aggression, whatever it is, and will emerge strong. ... We are defending our country and we will continue to defend it and that's all," he said.

He said he appreciated Arab nations' support of his position, saying they were in a unique position to understand what Iraq is going through. The United States' support of Israel, which he said often puts Israel's interests over those of Arab nations, had convinced many of Israel's neighbor's of the "malicious intentions" of the United States, he said.

"Now they have become aware that this American government hounds its friends more than most people with whom they disagree."

Open to dialogue

But he said that Iraq was ready for direct dialogue with the United States, in which both sides might air their grievances and complaints and work toward lifting sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq.

"We think that this is the only way, the only way, which can be used by Iraq and the United States to solve their differences," he said.

Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report.

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