- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 15 (UPI) — Thousands of Iraqis filled the streets of Baghdad Saturday to protest U.S. and British military deployments in the region and threats to invade Iraq.

Angry demonstrators gathered on the two banks of the Tigris River in the Iraqi capital, with hundreds waving Russian-made Kalashnikov automatic rifles and carrying banners denouncing the United States and Britain. Others marched with banners calling on the people of the world to support Iraq against the U.S.-British stance or waved Iraqi and Palestinian flags.

The demonstration coincided with others staged in Iraq's cities and in capitals around the world, including Washington.

In Baghdad, protesters chanted anti-war slogans and denounced the U.S. and British governments as the "evil coalition." Among them were peace activists from around the world, many of whom wore T-shirts reading "human shields." The activists began arriving in Iraq last week from the United States, Europe and Asia, especially Japan, to act as human shields around hospitals, schools and other facilities in the event of military action.

Iraq's state-owned media dedicated their programs Saturday to speeches by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his advice to his people, interspersed with nationalist songs calling for "jihad (struggle) against the aggressors."

Iraqis on the street welcomed Friday's report by weapons inspectors as a fair hearing before the international community. Inspection chiefs Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei told the 15-member U.N. Security Council that several questions remain with regard to Iraq's disarmament — but also that, after 10 weeks of investigation, inspection teams had so far found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

There has been no official Iraqi response, though on Friday Deputy Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz — in Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II about efforts to avert war — said U.S. President George Bush "will have to answer some very hard questions" when inspectors continue to find no chemical, biological, nuclear or other illegal weapons.

Iraqi newspapers have also refrained from commenting on the reports.

Meanwhile, international inspectors continued their unannounced visits to a number of sites suspected of involvement in the production of weapons of mass destruction.

U.N. and International Atomic Energy Agency experts visited al-Tuwaitha outside of Baghdad, which had previously contained two nuclear reactors, as well as the headquarters of the Iraqi Nuclear Energy Organization.

They also searched the Saddam Technological Center that belongs to Baghdad University, and conducted a comprehensive survey of Baghdad city.

A group of inspectors also visited Utad warehouses outside Mosul, 450 kilometers (270 miles) north of the capital.

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