By Andrew Buncombe
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2003-01-05 03:00

BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON, 5 January 2003 — Iraq is preparing to take in thousands of people from across the world who have offered to be used as “human shields” against a US-led war, an official newspaper reported yesterday.

Al-Qadissiyah quoted former Jordanian MP Mansur Murad, who has been campaigning for volunteers, as saying some 100,000 people had already come forward. However, the daily gave no dates for the arrival of the volunteers.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said Thursday the regime backed the human shield volunteers. “Resistance to the United States concerns not only Iraqis but the Arab nation and the free countries of the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi News Agency reported from Paris that a group of French “peace volunteers” would arrive in Baghdad shortly at the initiative of the Franco-Iraqi friendship association run by Gilles Munier.

In another development, UN arms inspectors set up a permanent base in northern Iraq yesterday to speed up a hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction.

With the drums of war in Iraq beating louder, teams from the UN Monitoring, Inspection and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also examined at least five sites, including a brewery, in central and southern areas of the country. A multidisciplinary inspection team traveled to the city of Mosul, 375 km north of Baghdad to set up a permanent regional office from where they would launch inspections in northern Iraq.

“This will help us expand and accelerate our inspections throughout the country, but particularly in the north,” UN inspectors’ spokesman Hiro Ueki told reporters before leaving to Mosul with the team. Ueki said the team would be temporarily based at a hotel before moving to a more permanent location in the city.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri accused the United States of trying to destabilize Iraq by supporting Iraqi exiles whom he described as “mercenaries and terrorists.” In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Sabri said a US plan to train exiled Iraqis to take part in a post-Saddam Hussein administration was an aggression that violated international laws. “Bush’s administration is supporting mercenaries and terrorists to destabilize the political situation and the social security in Iraq,” said the letter.

In Damascus, Turkey’s Prime Minister Abdullah Gul met Syrian President Bashar Assad yesterday at the start of a tour of Middle East countries to seek ways to head off a US-led war in Iraq that he likened to Pandora’s box.

The Turkish prime minister said he and Bashar had discussed concrete steps to try to avoid war, though he gave no details.

“We want to do everything we can. This means not saying ‘We do not want war’ and then sitting back and waiting for the war to break out,” Gul told reporters in Damascus. “We still believe that this problem can be solved without war.”

“Iraq is like Pandora’s box. We don’t want Pandora’s box to be opened here,” Gul said in an interview with Aksam newspaper. “This box should not be opened. Iraq should not be scattered because it would not be possible to put everyone back in again.”

Gul said the chief responsibility for avoiding a war lay with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “Undoubtedly, a great role has to be undertaken by Iraq for a solution without war,” he told reporters before leaving for Syria. “It has to demonstrate to the whole world that it complies with UN Security Council decisions.”

Later, Gul told a press conference broadcast live on Turkish television after talks with the Syrian leader and Prime Minister Mustapha Miro that “Syrian officials and President Bashar share the same concerns with us” on a possible war against Iraq. “We are unanimous that we need to expand extraordinary efforts to resolve this problem without a war,” he added. Asked about suggestions Saddam could leave Iraq and go to another Arab country to avoid a war, he said he had not discussed that with Bashar.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said that the accusations being made against Iraq “serve no purpose and only strengthen the fear around the world that the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is being used to cover up other aims.

“Statements accusing Iraq of possessing hidden weapons are “gratuitous chatter” he said, adding that such accusations were probably being used as a smokescreen.

Meanwhile, US and British forces have been stepping up propaganda efforts to encourage Iraqi soldiers to lay down their arms — dropping millions of leaflets over major cities and encouraging the troops to tune in to special anti-Saddam radio broadcasts. The moves are seen as an intensification of efforts to prepare for possible military action against Iraq.

US and British planes also hit civilian targets in Iraq yesterday. (The Independent)

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