Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has called on Iraqis to volunteer for training to confront what he termed continuing threats from the United States, Iraqi television said Saturday.
It said the call was issued at a meeting of the regional command of the ruling Baath Party on Friday night."We should show an essential part of the people's determination under the leadership of the great Baath (Party) to fight in order that Iraq exists and remains as it should be," state television quoted Saddam as saying in a letter addressed to the meeting.
He called for "mobilization for training an essential unit of our forces through volunteers - out of conviction and not through orders," it added.
The television gave no details of the size of the proposed force.
It said Saddam was addressing the Baath Party leadership Friday night, the seventh anniversary of the start of the 1991 gulf war, which U.S.-led forces launched in an effort to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
"Although we are in the eighth year, our enemy, the enemy of God and humanity, America and Zionism, are still continuing their evil work and searching for any thread of hope to fulfil their wicked goals," he said.
"The president's letter also stressed the principle of free volunteering for citizens in this jihad (holy struggle) which will cover all of Iraq and men and women of ages capable of military training and carrying weapons," the television said.
Iraq and the United Nations have been locked in a tense stand-off over U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. Washington has said it will not rule out the use of force to resolve the dispute.
Earlier Saturday, Saddam threatened to halt U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq within months and warned Washington against taking military action over Baghdad's deepening row with the United Nations.
In a defiant speech, Saddam said Baghdad would carry out a demand from its parliament to end the arms inspections unless seven-year sanctions on Iraq were lifted.
U.N. chief arms inspector Richard Butler arrived in the gulf on Saturday on his way to Baghdad for talks over the latest standoff.
Butler, who heads the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, will spend two days in Bahrain before leaving on Monday for Baghdad. There he has pledged to listen "so their legitimate concerns of dignity and sovereignty can be attended to."
The United States, which has deployed a powerful military force in the gulf, said it was losing patience with Iraq and insisted the international community was committed to ensuring the dismantling of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The White House and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said there was no chance U.N. trade sanctions imposed on Baghdad for the invasion of Kuwait would be removed without Iraq allowing unfettered access to weapons sites.
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Iraq all but admitted gassing prisoners when it blocked an American-led U.N. inspection team from checking out the reports.
Ambassador Bill Richardson told CBS television Saturday the Iraqi president was "dreaming" if he thought sanctions would go unless Iraq complied with all U.N. Security Council resolutions and allowed "full and unfettered access to all sites of weapons of mass destruction."