Iraq gloats over wave of peace protests
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq on Sunday gloated over the global outpouring of opposition to the U.S. threat of attack, saying anti-war demonstrations in dozens of countries signaled an Iraqi victory and "the defeat and isolation of America."
Iraq's tightly controlled news media gave prominent coverage to anti-war demonstrations staged around the world on Saturday. Iraqi television showed footage of millions marching in the world's cities - under the logo "International Day of Confronting the Aggression."
"The world said with one voice: 'No to aggression on Iraq,"' read a headline in the government daily Al-Jumhuriya. "The world rises against American aggression and the arrogance of naked force," read a front page headline in the army daily Al-Qadissiya.
"These demonstrations expressed in their spirit, meaning and slogans the decisive Iraqi victory and the defeat and isolation of America," Al-Jumhuriya said in a commentary.
Iraq staged its own demonstrations on Saturday, when tens of thousands of people, many carrying assault rifles and portraits of Saddam Hussein, took to the streets of several Iraqi cities to pledge their loyalty to the Iraqi leader in the face of U.S. threats to attack the Arab nation.
The United States and Britain accuse Iraq of concealing weapons of mass destruction prohibited under U.N. resolutions adopted at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. They say they will disarm Iraq by force if necessary.
Saddam on Saturday reiterated that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction and said talk of deposing him was "impertinent."
"They talk about changing the Iraqi regime at a time when they also speak about respecting the will of nations and falsely boast about their so-called democracy," he told papal peace envoy Cardinal Roger Etchegaray on Saturday, official news media said.
In contrast to the international peace protests on Saturday, the mood of Iraq's demonstrations was defiant, echoing the official Iraqi rhetoric of the past several months: Iraq wants peace but it is also ready for war, should one start.
"On our land, thank God, we have enough resolve, determination and faith, and enough men and supplies, to fight for 10 years," Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said in Cairo on Saturday.
U.N. weapons inspectors, meanwhile, were back hunting for weapons of mass destruction Sunday, paying surprise visits to at least 10 suspect sites, including food factories, an air base in the northern city of Mosul and a science college.
They also inspected an army unit some 25 miles north of Baghdad. Reporters who followed the inspectors to the site saw the arms experts examining two Al Samoud missiles, one of two types that chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said had been tested to ranges exceeding the 94-mile limit set by the U.N. Security Council.
Hiro Ueki, the spokesman for the inspectors in Baghdad, could not immediately comment on Sunday's inspection but said the U.N. missiles experts were checking Al Samoud missiles against Iraq's declaration.
The inspectors returned to Iraq in November after a four-year break to search for evidence of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons or programs to manufacture them. They have so far not found any major evidence of their existence, although Blix told the Security Council on Friday that some weapon agents remained "unaccounted for."