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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 17:07 GMT

World: Middle East

Iraqi army starts mass training

The army aims to teach all Iraqi men the basics

By Richard Downes in Baghdad

The deputy chief of staff of the Iraqi army has announced that the army will soon start retraining hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens to prepare them to defend the country.

The campaign is part of an ongoing programme designed to make the entire adult population capable of fighting foreign aggression.

Estimates of Iraq's professional army strength are notoriously difficult to verify, and the Iraqi figure of more than two million is believed by many to be much too high - it includes many army conscripts not involved in any military activities.

But the military-preparedness project which was launched last year is meant to equip all those aged between 15 and 65 with the basics of defending themselves and in using small arms.

Forty-day programme

For two hours every day for 40 days, the Iraqis will be asked to drill in the streets and to assemble and disassemble machine-guns and rifles.

[ image: It is difficult to verify how many are in the Iraqi army]
It is difficult to verify how many are in the Iraqi army
Students, members of the ruling Baath Socialist Party and civil servants will start the training programme, although no date has yet been given.

The programme was launched in 1997 at a time when tensions between Iraq and the United Nations over weapons inspections were rising.

At present there's no particular tension, although Iraqis are increasingly frustrated by the failure of the United Nations to start a review of the sanctions that have crippled this country of 20 million people.

Iraq broke off all co-operation with the weapons inspectors in August of this year and has not allowed the 100 or so UN staff dealing with weapons-compliance issues to inspect any sites in the country.

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