BAGHDAD, Iraq – The preacher at Friday prayers told a story of how God led ancient Arab soldiers to victory over a stronger infidel army, but his message failed to hearten the faithful who fear war with a modern foe — America.
"I'm afraid of war and worried about my sons," said Um Satar, a mother of five boys.
Sermons at Baghdad mosques on the Muslim world's day of prayer came as the Iraqi government-controlled press voiced skepticism about President Bush's declaration Thursday that he hoped the crisis over Iraq's alleged weapons program could be settled without war.
The official daily Al-Iraq said "the dog's tail will never be straight" — the Arabic version of the English maxim "you can't teach an old dog new tricks."
At the Mother of All Battles Mosque — which takes its name from President Saddam Hussein's label for the Gulf War — preacher Thaer Ibrahim Al-Shomari told the old story to hearten Iraqis who are bombarded by their media and leaders with U.S. threats of war and Baghdad's pledges to defeat any invader.
"The Arab tribes, with their modest armies and modest weapons, confronted the infidel army," Al-Shomari said. "We have to learn the lessons of this story from the Quran. ...Don't lose hope, O Muslims.
"God save the Iraqi people and give them victory over the Americans. ... God ruin their tanks, their soldiers, their weapons and their cannons," Al-Shomari prayed.
As the preacher talked of war, some women wept. Among them was Um Satar, who like others willing to talk to reporters gave only an Arab nickname derived from the name of her oldest son. Um Satar means "mother of Satar."
"Why not cry?" asked the 46-year-old woman. "I lost relatives in the war with Iran, five cousins. I don't want to lose my sons this time."
Um Fahd, 36, who has two sons and two daughters, complained that other Arab nations were not supporting Iraq and said she was weary of U.S.-Iraqi tensions.
"We are tired of living under daily threats that Bush will strike Iraq," she said. "We sleep while worried, wake up with worry killing us. My 7-year-old son wakes up screaming 'Bush will hit us."'
Bush threatens war with Iraq if Baghdad fails to give up its weapons of mass destruction as required by U.N. resolutions adopted after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Iraq insists its weapons programs were destroyed during and after the war.
On Thursday, Bush said he was "hopeful we won't have to go to war," but he still expressed skepticism about Saddam's intentions.
Al-Iraq, the government daily, was prompted to ask "has Bush suddenly become rational again and wakened from his illusions, has he thought about the consequences of his aggression and its destructive effects?"
The paper answered its own query, saying the president's words were "only ... aimed at cooling the atmosphere and reducing the heat of the world's public anger caused by his threats and preparations for war."
The arms inspectors had a routine day Friday. They revisited the Al Rasheed Co., southwest of Baghdad, which makes missile propellants, and the Al Basil chemical company on the capital's outskirts. They also went to a former storage facility and test site for chemical weapons in the desert 125 miles west of Baghdad.
U.N. officials gave no indication of what the weapons experts found in their inspections as is their custom.
Iraq asserts that five weeks of resumed U.N. inspections have turned up nothing to prove Baghdad has breached Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction.
But in New York, U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Friday that he had "a couple of questions" to raise with Iraqi officials about their weapons declaration when he returns to Baghdad this month.
Blix said last month that Iraq's declaration had not provided sufficient details about its production of missile engines, recovery of 50 destroyed conventional warheads, the loss of 550 mustard gas shells, production and weaponization of the deadly VX nerve agent and its unilateral destruction of biological warfare agents.
In Kuwait, a U.S. congresswoman said Washington could not be sure Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction unless U.N. inspectors interview hundreds of Iraqi scientists.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said finding out what Iraq's scientists have done since U.N. inspections were suspended in 1998 was vital to getting the true picture of Saddam's arsenal.
The U.N. resolution which returned the inspectors in late November allows private questioning of any Iraqi scientist and provides for them to be taken out of the country.