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Will envoys rally support for Saddam?

Saddam Hussein dispatched diplomats to Arab capitals Monday to try to rally support for his position in the standoff over U.N. weapons inspections.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted unidentified Egyptian officials as saying the United States has given Iraq a deadline of Feb. 17 to comply with U.N. resolutions or risk a military strike. The report could not be independently confirmed.Meanwhile, a weekly Iraqi magazine Monday quoted Iraq's defense minister, Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed, as saying the Baghdad government had completed preparations for defending against an American attack.

Iraq's troops are on alert, and despite U.S. technological and technical advantages, the "Iraqis are sure they will be victorious," Ahmed told Youth Beat magazine. This, he said, was because the Iraqis "will use their weapons better."

Iraq has been sparring for months with U.N. weapons inspectors, barring them from "sensitive sites" including presidential compounds on grounds of sovereignty.

The United Nations insists its inspectors must have unfettered access to all suspected weapons sites.

The U.N. Security Council must confirm that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction before punishing trade sanctions, imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, can be lifted.