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Imam opens verbal skirmish at Mother of All Battles mosque

Saturday, December 21, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Inside the Mother of All Battles mosque, the prayer leader counseled Iraqis to be patient and sought God's help Friday against U.S. forces massing in the Persian Gulf.

"Destroy their planes. Burn their tanks. Turn their cannons back upon them," implored Imam Thaer Ibrahim Al-Shomari, a day after the Bush administration declared Iraq in material breach of U.N. resolutions.

Reporters, meanwhile, chased U.N. weapons inspectors through Baghdad's streets -- only to find many of them headed for the Al-Mansour souk for souvenir shopping on the Muslim holy day.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri was at the mosque when 30-year-old Al-Shomari appeared to address the deity on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government.

"God, keep our country from the evils of the Americans... Take revenge on them, God. Protect our country from the evils of the British and Jews," the imam prayed.

Sabri declined to comment on the declaration Thursday by the U.S. administration that Iraq was in material breach of U.N. Security Council resolution 1441 -- which gives Saddam a final chance to prove Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction or the facilities to make them.

Leaving the women's section of the Mother of All Battles mosque, Sondos Khaled, a 29-year-old mother of two, voiced support for Saddam.

"We are not worried about our children. We worry about President Saddam Hussein. As long as he exists, we exist. If he goes, Iraq will never be the same Iraq," she said.

Complaining that Iraqis have been living in a state of war for more than two decades -- dating back to the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 -- 45-year-old Khairiya Al Enezi said it was time to get the fighting over with.

"We are no longer afraid. We are right. It's better to die once and for all after living in humiliation daily from America. We can't take this any more. We die every day," she said.

Iraqis have been living under strict U.N. sanctions since Saddam invaded southern neighbor Kuwait in 1990, and the trade restrictions cannot be lifted until he convinces the world community he no longer has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or the missiles to deliver them.

Iraqi officials have said they hoped the latest round of U.N. inspections, the first in four years, could be wrapped up in eight months and lead to the end of the sanctions.

Even as the Iraqi people felt the extreme pinch of the sanctions, Saddam built the mosque he called Mother of All Battles -- his name for the Gulf War -- a $7.5 million monument to the Iraqi fight against the U.S.-led coalition.

The outer four minarets are 140-feet high and look like the barrels of Kalashnikov rifles. The inner four are 120-feet high and resemble the Scud missiles Iraq fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia at the height of the Gulf War.

At a museum next to the mosque, more than 600 pages of the Muslim holy book, the Quran -- written in ink mixed with Saddam's blood, authorities claim -- are on display.

"I have given much of my blood... God keep that blood for the glory of the Arab community, ... the glory of Iraq, of virtue, of holy war," says an accompanying statement by Saddam.

The mosque's cornerstone was laid on Saddam's 61st birthday -- April 28, 1998. Still under construction is the Saddam the Great mosque which will dwarf the Mother of All Battles structure and become the fourth-largest in the Arab world.

Unlike last Friday, when inspectors encountered their first snag since returning for inspections last month, most of the U.N. inspectors took the Muslim day of prayer off this week.

One team did revisit Al-Tuwaitha, the nuclear complex that was the heart of Iraq's effort to build nuclear weapons before the Gulf War.

The United Nations issued a statement in Baghdad late Friday saying an industrial, chemical and research center within the sprawling al-Tuwaitha complex "now conducts civilian research in the non-nuclear field" and said it was "made available to full inspection."

Faez Al Birqdar, an adviser of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters outside the complex, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, that it "contains nothing prohibited."


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