BAGHDAD, Iraq – Top U.N. officials warned Iraq on Saturday that the Jan. 27 deadline for the results of weapons inspections is fast approaching, and that time is running out for the country to cooperate and avoid a war.
"Iraq has not cooperated sufficiently with the United Nations weapons inspectors, and we will impress the seriousness of the situation to them," top U.N. inspector Hans Blix told reporters Saturday in Cyprus. "The world would like to be assured that Iraq is rid of weapons of mass destruction. Until we, the inspectors, have been convinced of that we cannot so report to the Security Council."
America's top general also pushed for more compliance from Iraq, saying Saddam still had time to come clean about its banned weapons program. Around the world, thousands of peace demonstrators hit the streets.
Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors visited at least five locations in Iraq Saturday, including Trade Ministry food warehouses in central Baghdad.
One inspection was scrubbed after Iraqi officials insisted on following a U.N. team by helicopter into the northern "no-fly" zone from which Iraqi aircraft are banned, the United Nations said.
The team also inspected at least two refrigerator trucks and a trailer, which the site manager, Nawal Nafa'a Fotohi, said were mobile food testing labs.
Such labs are of special interest because U.S. intelligence officials believe Iraq may be trying to create mobile "fermentation units" to build biological weapons. U.N. officials had said inspectors would be looking for biological weapons laboratories on trucks.
Fotohi insisted the labs were used to ensure the safety of government food rations. "We are not afraid of anything and we have nothing to hide," Fotohi said.
Inspectors would not say if they found anything suspicious.
Another team revisited a site south of Baghdad where inspectors on Thursday found 12 empty chemical weapon warheads. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry, in a statement accounting for the inspectors' daily activities, said the purpose of the return visit was to tag the warheads.
The U.N. team said a group of missile inspectors gathered at an air base Saturday to fly to a site in northern Iraq. The team canceled the mission "for safety reasons due to the insistence by the Iraqi side to fly their helicopter into the no-fly zone following (U.N.) helicopters," a statement said.
U.S. and British jets patrol no-fly zones in the north and south of the country to protect Iraqi Kurds and Shiite Muslims. A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the Iraqi attempt as "indirect interference" in the inspections.
Other teams visited Baghdad University's science college and the University of Kufa, 125 miles south of the Iraqi capital, according to witnesses and Information Ministry officials.
Inspectors also visited the Al-Tuwaitha complex, nine miles south of Baghdad, which was at the heart of Iraq's former nuclear program, and the chemical and explosives QaQa Company, 16 miles south of Baghdad.
The U.N. teams returned to Iraq in November after a four-year break to determine if President Saddam Hussein still possesses weapons of mass destruction. Saddam says Iraq no longer has such weapons, which were outlawed at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. The United States and Britain don't believe him and have threatened to disarm Iraq through attack if he does not declare those weapons.
U.N. inspectors have said that Iraq has neglected to disclose required details of its weapons programs in a 12,000-page declaration handed over in December. U.S. officials argue that Iraq's failure to submit a thorough report proves Saddam has no intention of complying with orders to disarm.
Saddam, meanwhile, said Saturday that the outcome of armed conflict with the United States would be decided on the ground, but warned army commanders that Iraqi forces could be hurt by Washington's abilities to fight from long distances.
The United States and Britain are moving ships, planes and tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf to back up the rhetoric against Baghdad.
Blix and fellow inspector Mohamed ElBaradei were to travel to Baghdad on Sunday to warn Iraq that time is running out. They will report to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27.
In a television interview, ElBaradei said he and Blix would be "making a last-ditch effort" to convince Iraq "to give us what we need" before they report to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27.
U.N. officials have said inspectors have found no conclusive evidence Iraq has supplies of illegal weapons. However, suspicions were raised by the discovery Thursday of 12 empty warheads adapted for use as chemical weapons and numerous documents found at the home of an Iraqi physicist.
The physicist, Faleh Hassan, said the documents were from his private research projects and students' theses. He accused the inspectors of "Mafia-like" tactics.
However, ElBaradei said the documents appeared to be related to the use of lasers to enrich uranium, possibly for nuclear weapons. ElBaradei said that if the Iraqis had not disclosed information contained in the documents, "it obviously doesn't show the transparency we've been preaching."
In Rome, America's top general insisted Saturday that Jan. 27 was not a deadline for war and that Iraq could still avoid conflict by cooperating with the United Nations.
"Certainly there has been no decision on the U.S. part for conflict in Iraq," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. "There is no doubt Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and a great interest in nuclear weapons."
Myers was to meet with Turkey's top general in Ankara on Monday. He refused to comment on reports from Turkey that the United States is considering scaling back its request to base tens of thousands of soldiers in that strategic NATO nation for a possible attack on Iraq.
Anti-war sentiment is strong in predominantly Muslim Turkey and among America's European allies, who have been urging the Bush Administration to give the inspectors more time to complete their work and avoid an imminent war.
Protesters rallied by the thousands Saturday in Washington and in cities around the world to demand that the United States back down from the threat of war. Many of the rallies, however, drew modest crowds of a few thousand rather than the huge marches common during the Vietnam War a generation ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.