BAGHDAD, IRAQ, DEC. 31 -- A senior Iraqi official today expressed his country's desire to reach a compromise leading toward direct talks with the United States.

"Iraq would be ready to receive any new proposal from the United States on date-fixing," the senior official said, referring to efforts to agree on a date for Secretary of State James A. Baker III to visit Baghdad and for Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to pay a reciprocal visit to Washington. "We've kept the door open for whenever they want to reconsider their position."

Baker is likely to be traveling in Europe and the Persian Gulf region as the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait approaches, Bush administration officials said today, suggesting that efforts to arrange a meeting between him and Iraqi leaders could occur in the context of those trips.

In recent days, U.S. officials also have suggested that they are open to further discussions on dates for such a meeting. {Details, Page A20.}

The senior Iraqi official accused the United States, however, of blocking what Iraq regards as the most workable diplomatic initiative underway, that of Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid. He said Saudi Arabia had indicated a strong willingness to hold direct talks with Iraq concerning the gulf crisis until the United States intervened at the outset of Bendjedid's initiative to prevent Saudi participation. Saudi officials on Dec. 14 refused to allow Bedjedid to meet with Saudi King Fahd.

In Washington, the State Department had no official response to the Iraqi allegation about the Bendjedid initiative. But a senior State Department official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, denied that the United States had pressured the Saudis not to see Bendjedid.

"There was no U.S. influence" involved, the U.S. official said. "It was a purely Saudi decision about how they would or would not receive him."

Asked where the Algerian effort now stands, the U.S. official said Bendjedid apparently "found in Baghdad whatever everyone else found in Baghdad, which is no willingness to compromise."

The Iraqi official's remarks, coupled with a New Year's message by President Saddam Hussein accusing the United States of blocking the road to peace, indicated a revival of Iraqi attempts to place the onus on Washington for the current diplomatic stalemate. Saddam's message warned that if diplomacy fails to resolve the gulf crisis, Iraq is prepared to fight a long war for control of Kuwait.

Iraq today ordered 17-year-olds to report for military duty, the youngest yet to be called for possible combat, the Associated Press reported. It was Iraq's fourth major callup of reserves since Aug. 2. It was not known how many draftees were involved.

As for new efforts among European Community members to begin their own mediation attempt, the Iraqi official said he had no reason to believe a European initiative would be successful at this time.

And although he placed little hope in the success of a U.S.-Iraqi dialogue, the official said, Baghdad is nevertheless eager to open talks.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jacques Poos, who will take over the EC's rotating chairmanship Tuesday, said today that some EC members might push for a meeting between him and Aziz, the Associated Press reported. If the EC decides to send him to Baghdad for talks, Poos said, he would be ready to go.

Saddam has refused to meet here with Baker before Jan. 12, a date the United States has rejected as too close to the Jan. 15 deadline. The senior Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether Iraq is now willing to alter its stance on the timing of a visit by Baker, but he said, "If they're flexible, we're flexible."

Asked what purpose talks would serve given the current atmosphere in which neither side appears willing to compromise, the official said: "Dialogue is always helpful. There is a need just to talk, to have a full exchange of views. We hope that out of this discussion we might arrive at something more in-depth and concrete" toward resolving the crisis diplomatically.

Iraq has steadfastly contended that its annexation of Kuwait as Iraq's 19th province is irreversible, yet its leaders have signaled a willingness to compromise if the United States would open discussions on broader regional issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

The official dismissed recent reports that Iraq might be willing to start at least a partial withdrawal from Kuwait if it were allowed to hold Bubiyan and Warba, two strategic Kuwaiti islands in the gulf, as well as all of the rich Rumailah oilfield, which straddles the border between the two countries.

However, he acknowledged that in Iraq's annexation plans, the islands and oilfield have been put under the jurisdiction of Iraq's Basra province, while the rest of Kuwait is being administered under a separate provincial government.

The official said the most workable approach to breaking the diplomatic stalemate is the "Arab solution" proposed by Bendjedid, who earlier this month toured European and Arab capitals in an effort to convene direct talks between Saddam and Fahd. He met Saddam early in the trip and reportedly received a message to carry to Fahd.

Although the Iraqi official did not address the substance of that message, it was clear from his remarks that Saddam placed a high priority on Bendjedid's efforts and remains eager to meet directly with Fahd.

"The Algerian attempt was an effort to move things forward," the official said, "but {Bendjedid} was not getting cooperation from the other side." He added that Saudi Arabia originally "gave a green light" to the Algerian initiative and that Bendjedid was poised to visit Riyadh to organize an Iraqi-Saudi summit meeting when the Saudis abruptly withdrew.

"Bendjedid had no chance to get results without going to Saudi Arabia," he said. "Of all the parties, {the Algerians} were the most qualified to do it. But the United States did not want an Arab solution."

Despite a festive atmosphere in Iraq's capital on New Year's Eve, Western embassies here are busy removing nonessential personnel and giving dependents the option to leave the country because of the heightened prospect for war. The staff of the U.S. Embassy, for example, has been reduced to five diplomats. In anticipation of a possible outbreak of hostilities or a rumored plan by Iraq to close its borders as early as Jan. 10, the U.S. Embassy and others have stockpiled huge amounts of food, water and other supplies.

"Short of any new moves -- and it's the Iraqis who should make the next move -- the probability for war is high," a European diplomat said today.

Another Western diplomat said that the fear of war was weighing heavily on the minds of his embassy's 29 staff members and dependents, and that when the dependents were polled on whether they would like to remain here or leave the country, "only one wife said she would like to stay here."

In neighboring Jordan, virtually every major international airline has either canceled service to the country or announced plans to do so in the coming weeks. Diplomats here said the cancellations are the result of higher insurance premiums being placed on airliners serving Jordan, although some airlines have said the cancellations are due to a drop in demand.

Jordan has backed Iraq politically throughout the gulf crisis and reportedly is assisting in Iraq's attempts to break an international trade embargo.

As a result of the embargo, Iraq reportedly is facing a shortage of chlorine needed to make the public water supply safe for drinking. There are reports of a hepatitis outbreak in the Iraqi capital, and the U.S. Embassy has already stockpiled 150 cases of drinking water and established a health unit to deal with any outbreak of disease.

Asked whether Iraq is prepared to go to war, the senior Iraqi official replied affirmatively.

"Iraq believes it will be a long-term war, and in that way we can win," he said. War strategists have calculated that Iraq holds a significant advantage in manpower, he said, and can deploy tens of thousands of additional troops if needed. He added that five support personnel are needed for every U.S. service member at the warfront, which means that the actual fighting forces being deployed by the United States are significantly fewer than the 450,000 troops Bush is sending to the region.

"We are aware of the differences in technology," the official said, acknowledging that the United States holds a distinct advantage over Iraq in weaponry and air forces. "We are aware of the differences between the United States and the Iranians. But we have learned much from our {eight-year} war with Iran, and we can make this war last a very long time."