The State Department yesterday discouraged Americans from accepting any offers from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to visit hostages in Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is using Americans and other nationals as pawns in a cruel game," said spokesman Margaret Tutwiler. "He is heartlessly toying with the anguish of family members, and the sympathies of all civilized people for the plight of the hostages. Iraq's cynical trafficking in human beings should be exposed for what it is -- an attempt to exploit for propaganda purposes the illegal detention of Americans and other citizens."

Tutwiler said Iraq had invited "prominent" U.S. citizens to Iraq for visits. Hussein said this week he would invite Americans to visit family members trapped in Iraq. Tutwiler said the United States "discourages visits that the Iraqis can exploit for propaganda purposes, and will not support political, economic or other concessions" in return for the release of hostages.

Tutwiler announced that Iraq had told the United States of plans to release four U.S. citizens, two of whom were included on a list of urgent medical cases. Tutwiler said "at least 105 Americans" are being held as Iraqi "human shields." She said that temperatures in Iraq and Kuwait are dropping and that the United States is talking with Iraqi authorities in Baghdad about providing blankets and clothes for the Americans. However, she said Iraq has not yet been willing to guarantee that the goods would get to the Americans.