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World - Middle East

Hussein says no-fly zones illegal, vows resistance


January 3, 1999
Web posted at: 8:18 p.m. EST (0118 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In a defiant statement to his Cabinet, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said he considers the no-fly zones imposed over his country to be contrary to international law, and he vowed that Iraq would resist them with "bravery and courage."

Hussein's remarks were reported Sunday by the Iraqi News Agency.

The no-fly zones, which cover about two-thirds of Iraq, were set up by the United States, Britain and France after the 1991 Gulf War to stop Iraq from using its air force against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.

Iraq has repeatedly challenged the no-fly zones since last month's military strike by Britain and the United States, leading to two clashes in which Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries were attacked by Western forces.

In his remarks Sunday, Hussein 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."

"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," Hussein said.

Arab ministers discuss airstrike response

U.S. Air Force F-15C on patrol over northern Iraq  

The comments appear to be aimed at stoking Arab anger at the United States and Britain. Protesters took to the streets in several Arab capitals after the air raids, but Arab states have taken little action to support Iraq.

This weekend, foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen met in Egypt to discuss a planned Arab League summit on the airstrikes. The summit is set to begin January 24.

The issue is a difficult one for the Arab world because it remains split over how to deal with Iraq, nearly eight years after its invasion of a fellow Arab country, Kuwait.

Arab diplomats have said that they fear the summit might turn into a platform for anti-American propaganda by Iraq.

Diplomatic sources, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the four Arab ministers agreed to lobby the Arab League to delay the meeting, which has already been postponed once.

However, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said that plans were going forward for the meeting to be held as scheduled.

Hussein, in his Cabinet remarks reported Sunday, said that he believes the Arab League won't come up with the strong condemnation of the American and British airstrikes that Iraq wants.

He said those who engineered the first delay in the summit "will implement the treacherous role they have been assigned in the plan of aggression against Iraq."

U.N. tries to persuade Iraq not to ban aid workers

Meanwhile, U.N. officials in Baghdad held talks with Iraqi officials, trying to persuade them not to go through with a threatened ban on participation by Britons and Americans in U.N. relief efforts.

Diplomatic sources have said that Iraqi officials told the United Nations that it could no longer guarantee the safety of British and American aid workers in the wake of the airstrikes. The Iraqi government has decided not to renew visas for those currently in the country or give entry permits to those returning from leave, the sources said.

The decision could jeopardize the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq because the U.N. policy does not allow individual governments to dictate the makeup of its staff.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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