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Iraq imams, priests in peace march

U.N. weapons inspectors at the
U.N. weapons inspectors at the "Family Shampoo" factory in al Garma city, 45 kms west of Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Hundreds of Muslim clerics and Christian priests held a march for peace in the streets of Baghdad as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on television with his ministers discussing preparations for war.

Saddam and other top officials also discussed Thursday how the Iraqi people could best prepare to defend their country's sovereignty.

While the Iraqi government talked war, the religious men marched to the U.N. Development Program headquarters, chanting and playing drums, calling on the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the growing crisis over Iraq and its weapons program.

"We don't like war, war is always worse than any other solution," said Joseph Toma, a priest. "We ask God and we ask all representatives on governments in the world to have more faith in peace."

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz -- a Christian who recently returned from a visit with Pope John Paul II in Rome -- said a war would "undermine the historical relationship" between Muslims and Christians.

"If the United States wages a war against Iraq, nobody will think that this is a religious war because nobody takes America as a Christian nation," he said.

"But that's different when Spain, Italy, all other nations who are close to us, who are our neighbors, participate in the aggression. Then people might think that this is a crusade against Arabs and Muslims."

Meanwhile Russia's foreign minister Igor Ivanov said he was concerned about "pressure on the international inspectors" in Iraq. He did not say specifically who was applying the pressure, but in the context of previous comments it was clear he meant the United States. (Full story)

The U.N. weapons inspectors themselves returned to five missile sites where they have been counting and cataloguing Iraq's al Samoud 2 missiles -- the weapons a special U.N. weapons panel found had a longer range than that allowed under U.N. rules.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is expected soon to call on Iraq to destroy or dismantle the missiles under the supervision of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).

Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, reiterated Iraq's denial that the missiles are in violation of U.N. resolutions, which prohibit Iraq from having a missile that can go farther than 150 km (93 miles).

Six missile experts -- from France, Germany, Britain, the United States, China and Ukraine -- were commissioned by Blix to examine the range of two missiles, the al-Samoud 2 and the al-Fatah.

A diplomatic source told CNN that Blix brought in the experts to give a "third voice" on the issue of a possible Iraqi arms violation.

The experts' report found that Iraq's al-Samoud 2 "went beyond" that 150-kilometer range, and the al-Fatah needed further study, diplomats said.

UNMOVIC had previously said 13 out of 40 recent tests of the al-Samoud missile went beyond the permitted range. UNMOVIC told Iraq to stop testing the two missile systems until the U.N. analysis was completed.

-- CNN Correspondent Rym Brahimi contributed to this report.


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