Iraq Shrugs Off U.S. Preparations for War

The Iraqi government scoffed Saturday at Washington's decision to deploy thousands of additional troops to the region in preparation for possible war, as U.N. arms inspectors visited five suspected weapons sites in and around the capital.

"Whoever dares to strike Iraq and its people will pay a high price," the official Iraqi army newspaper, Al-Qadissiya, said in an editorial.

"The beating of war drums, the noise of weapons, the sending of warships, the mobilizing of armies will neither frighten nor terrorize the Iraqis," said the paper.

Thousands of U.S. troops, two aircraft carrier battle groups and scores of combat aircraft have received orders since Christmas to ready themselves to head to the region in January and February, American defense officials said Friday. Military personnel will go to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, among other locations.

Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mahdi Saleh opened a seminar in Baghdad on Saturday saying that Iraq would defeat any invader.

"Iraqis will fight under the leadership of the holy leading warrior (President) Saddam Hussein," said Saleh, dressed in a military uniform. "We will fight from village to village, from city to city, from street to street in every city."

The Iraqi Information Ministry said teams of U.N. inspectors went to the al-Qa'qaa complex, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and four other sites, including the al-Kindi vaccine factory -- which was inspected on Dec. 22 -- and the Ibn Younis engineering plant.

The inspectors have visited al-Qa'qaa eight times since they resumed their work on Nov. 27. The huge complex houses several factories, including one used to make parts for nuclear and conventional missiles.

The inspections are being carried out under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 that entitles the inspectors to visit any facility or property at any time.

During the inspections in the 1990s, the United Nations destroyed tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

However, the inspectors do not believe they had found all of Iraq's banned arsenal by the time they left ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes in late 1998. After the airstrikes, Iraq refused to allow the inspectors to return and insisted it had no weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq agreed to readmit the inspectors after the passage of Resolution 1441, which warns Baghdad of "serious consequences" if it does not cooperate with the U.N. disarmament process. The United States and Britain have threatened to disarm Iraq by force if it does not cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.