BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi army said Thursday it has been holding exercises in central Iraq aimed at countering an American attack, another sign that Saddam Hussein's government may believe war is inevitable.
The soldiers showed they were ready "to foil the schemes of America and its evil allies and to respond to the aggressors and bury their low schemes," Fadel Mahmoud Ghareib, in charge of the ruling Baath party's Babil province branch, was quoted as saying in the army's Al-Qadissiya newspaper.
The newspaper said Baath party militias had been practicing fighting in rural and populated areas and rehearsing techniques of "distracting the enemy in different directions by using light and medium weapons."
The newspaper did not say when the games were held, whether they were still underway or how many troops participated.
Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors toured labs and spoke with experts at an Iraq university Thursday, and Baghdad promised to produce within a few days a list of scientists for inspectors to interview in their hunt for Iraqi weapons programs.
Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's top liaison with the inspectors, told reporters the list of scientists who have worked on nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs would be handed over within "two or three days."
Under the toughened U.N. inspections that resumed Nov. 27, inspectors can speak privately with scientists and workers associated with Iraq's weapons -- and even take them abroad for interviews. U.S. officials have said they hope the privacy would prompt scientists to reveal hidden weapons programs.
Amin said inspectors for the first time asked for a private interview when they met Wednesday at Baghdad's University of Technology with Sabah Abdel-Nour who had worked in a nuclear program Iraq says is now closed down.
Abdel-Nour, however, refused to be interviewed without the presence of an Iraqi official.
Amin said that it is up to the individual scientists to consent or not to an interview with the inspectors.
"We do not support or oppose their decision," he said. "But we do not think there's a need for the interviews to be conducted abroad."
The inspectors have so far searched 188 sites since they arrived a month ago after a four-year break, he said.
Thursday, the inspectors returned to the University of Technology and toured the chemistry, engineering and computer departments and several labs, checking equipment tagged during U.N. inspections years ago, university head Mazen Mohammed Ali told reporters.
In the first round of inspections in the 1990s, after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, the United Nations destroyed tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons program. Inspectors do not believe they got all Iraq's banned arsenal, and that monitoring regime broke down in 1998 amid U.N.-Iraqi disputes.
Ali said the inspectors spoke with heads of departments and with university staff Thursday, asking how the institute was organized and what research it undertook for the government.
Abdel-Nour told reporters after his interview Wednesday that he had been asked about any progress Iraq may have made since inspectors were last here in 1998. He said Iraq was not hiding any weapons of mass destruction.
If Iraq can persuade the inspectors it is not hiding nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or the missiles to deliver them, it might avoid a U.S. strike. But the inspectors have said an Iraqi weapons declaration is wanting, and the United States has dismissed it as a lie.
Iraqis have been stocking up on such items as rice, canned food, fuel, baby formula and bottled water and some are buying generators in anticipation of war. The hoarding has led to price increases -- for example, a can of milk powder that sold for just under $1 a month ago now sells for about $1.50.
In apparent response, the Ministry of Trade has for several months, without explanation, been distributing double rations of flour, tea, sugar, rice and beans to Iraqi families.
Iraqis also are apparently hoarding dollars. The price of the U.S. dollar has risen to 2,330 dinars compared to 1,900 a month ago.
On Wednesday Saddam, in a speech read by a state television announcer, said Iraqis should be ready "to sacrifice their soul and life in defense of the nation."
Saddam added Iraqis should be shielded from foreign ideas that might shake their resolve. The statement followed a decision to maintain a ban on satellite television dishes in Iraq.
Saddam's son Odai runs the only Iraqi newspaper that quotes foreign reports. Odai Saddam Hussein's Babil newspaper had reappeared only last Saturday after being banned for a month for printing an objectionable story. The Information Ministry never said which story crossed the line.