BAGHDAD, Iraq – Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents poured into the streets of the capital on Saturday to protest U.S. war plans as U.N. weapons inspectors supervised the destruction of more Iraqi missiles.
Like anti-war protesters taking part in demonstrations around the Middle East and many other countries, Iraqis waved banners calling for peace.
But unlike the others, Baghdad's protesters also carried portraits of President Saddam Hussein along with signs demanding "No to USA War, Yes to Peace" while members of the ruling Baath Party, armed with Kalashnikovs, made sure everyone stayed in formation. Spontaneous protests are rare in Iraq.
Some protesters marched down Palestine Street, a wide boulevard in the eastern part of the city, banging drums, blowing on trumpets and dancing in a demonstration that looked more like a carnival in some places.
"We are demonstrating against the American administration and their plans against Iraq," said engineering student Sadi Salman, 23. "We would like to send them a clear message that all the Iraqi people reject the war against them and we are going to challenge them by all possible means we have. The protests around the world have given us support."
United Nations weapons inspectors, meanwhile, oversaw the destruction of more banned Iraqi missiles in al-Taji, a site 12 miles north of Baghdad. Inspectors would not say how many Al Samoud 2 missiles were being destroyed Saturday.
As of Friday night, 65 of Iraq's stock of about 100 of the missiles had been crushed. The inspectors ordered them destroyed last month after they were found to have a range beyond the 93 miles permitted by the United Nations.
The inspectors visited the Al-Qa Qa complex, a factory 15 miles south of Baghdad that produces chemicals and explosives, in addition to a medicine warehouse.
The Iraqi state-run Al-Jumhuriya newspaper said Saturday that the United States and Britain were at an impasse in the Iraq crisis, "because of Iraq's steadfastness," and that "the world public and official opposition to their war threats against Iraq is growing."
President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar were to meet Sunday in a hurriedly arranged summit to try to work out a way to win U.N. backing for the use of force to disarm Iraq.
The three allies have failed to rally enough support among other members of the U.N. Security Council for their new resolution to authorize force in Iraq.
United Nations officials have said privately that the diplomatic efforts were dead. The only question left, they said, was whether the three leaders would decide to abandon the resolution giving Saddam a Monday deadline to prove he has disarmed -- or put it to a vote that would be doomed to defeat.
The United States and Britain insist that Iraq has failed to give up all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as demanded by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War. U.N. weapons inspectors have been working since November to try to verify Iraq's claims that it has no such weapons.