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Iraqis Training for Military Strike

February 22, 1998

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Five mornings a week, the soccer field at Baghdad’s College of Physical Education turns into a military training camp where students drill and learn the basics of firing automatic rifles and grenades.

On Sunday, students in sweatsuits or blue jeans _ and a few in long dresses and headscarves _ marched across the grass in formation, then gathered in circles to learn how to take apart and reassemble Kalashnikov rifles.

This ragtag army would be no match for the United States’ cruise missiles and its armada of ships in the Gulf. But as American threats of war grew louder, Iraq used the military training of its citizens to show the world _ and its own people _ Iraqi determination. It worked with many Iraqis.

``I am not worried. ... I am sure God is with us,″ said Maha Ansari, a graduate student in sports medicine who was training in an all-women squad.

Across the field, 23-year-old Saud Azzad, a member of Iraq’s handball team, noted that he and many fellow students lived through the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and the bombings of the 1991 Gulf War set off by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

``We are more hardened than we should be,″ Azzad said. ``We have experienced such a situation before so we are not afraid.″

The training program here _ and on hundreds of schoolyards and empty lots _ was launched Feb. 1 in response to Iraq leader Saddam Hussein’s call for training a million volunteers to protect the country from external or internal threats.

Still, when Baghdad University’s 1,700 physical education students take to the soccer field for training, there aren’t enough weapons to go around. Often a single handgun or automatic rifle is passed from one to another.

A semi-trailer truck parked outside the college on Saturday contained about a thousand rifles of Russian, Yugoslav or Romanian origin, many in battered condition. They were for use at the college and other nearby training sites, an officer said.

There was no sign of any ammunition for them.

Waddad al-Mufti, a teacher at the college who earned her Ph.D. in physical education at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said the training gives her students the confidence that they can defend themselves.

``It is also very symbolic, something that gives us a sense of unity,″ said al-Mufti, who is a member of an all-teacher training squad.

She added: ``We don’t want a war. We are still suffering from the last one. But we will never give up our dignity.″

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