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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- President Saddam Hussein convened his top aides and military commanders Thursday to prepare for a possible war with the United States and to discuss how to "inflict defeat on the evil aggressors."
The Iraqi leader met with his deputy Izzat Ibrahim, his son Qusai, commander of the elite Republican Guards, Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed and a group of "fighters and researchers," according to Iraqi news reports.
The meeting dealt with preparing the Iraqi military and public for an American attack, radio stations and the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
They "discussed ways to enhance Iraqis' capabilities and steadfastness, in a way that provides all Iraqis with the chance to gain the honor of defending Iraq ... and enabling them to inflict defeat on the evil aggressors and achieve victory over them," the agency said.
A day earlier, Saddam insisted that Iraq doesn't want war with the United States. But he added that peace "at any cost" was unacceptable.
"We will not relinquish our independence, our dignity and our right to live and act freely," he said.
The United States and Britain accuse Iraq of concealing weapons of mass destruction and have massed tens of thousands of troops in the region, poised for a possible invasion.
U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq in November after a four-year gap under a new, tougher Security Council resolution. The inspectors are trying to verify Iraq's claims that it no longer holds banned weapons.
On Thursday, U.N. weapons inspectors taking inventories of banned Al Samoud 2 missiles and parts returned to facilities involved in the rocket's production. Diplomats said chief inspector Hans Blix would likely demand Iraq destroy the weapons.
The missiles, a key part of Iraq's arsenal, tested above the 94-mile range limit imposed by U.N. resolutions after the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq says the missiles flew so far in tests only because they weren't loaded down with guidance and control systems.
The inspectors went Thursday to the Ibn al-Haithem facility, just north of Baghdad, which produces missile parts, and the Al Samoud Factory, which makes liquid-propellant engines for the missiles, according to Iraq's Information Ministry.
They also visited the Al Quds Company, involved in explosives research and development, and the Al Basil Company, which makes chemicals.
Under the U.N. resolutions, the inspectors can order the missiles destroyed or rendered harmless. But U.N. sources and diplomats said Wednesday on condition of anonymity that Blix would likely send a letter to Iraq in coming days calling for it destroy all Al Samoud 2s.
Destroying the missiles would be difficult for Saddam, given the looming threat of war. However, his enemies could use a refusal as an argument for war.
On Feb. 14, chief inspector Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear control agency, told the Security Council that they detected some improvement in cooperation on the part of Saddam's government.
But Blix also said inspectors found that the Al Samoud 2 exceeded the permitted range and chastised Iraq for not giving a full accounting of chemical and biological weapons programs.
Britain's U.N. ambassador said his government will probably introduce a new draft resolution within days that will contain a deadline for Baghdad to show it is actively cooperating with weapons inspections.
Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told The Associated Press that he expected debate on the text to extend past March 1, when Blix is to issue his next report.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)