AMMAN, JORDAN, FEB. 18 -- Iraqi commentators today pinned "high hopes" for peace on Soviet-Iraqi talks in Moscow but the country continued preparing for an expanded war.

Allied aircraft dropped leaflets on southern Iraqi cities urging residents to leave their hometowns, as Israel did in 1982 before bombing Beirut. The official Iranian news agency said wind blew several of the leaflets to Iranian border cities such as Abadan and Khorramshahr.

Front-line skirmishes increased and military communiques out of Baghdad claimed high casualties in the ranks of allied troops in Saudi Arabia. A statement read on Baghdad radio said Iraqi soldiers "directed a series of destructive strikes with tactical field missiles at the enemy's positions and concentrations of men and equipment inside Saudi territory."

"A number of enemy scoundrels were killed or wounded, and equipment, weapons and vehicles were destroyed," it said.

In Saudi Arabia, allied officials said there had been no such Iraqi attacks.

Travelers leaving Iraq on Sunday gave vivid accounts of a protest against President Saddam Hussein by up to 5,000 people eight days ago, the Associated Press reported. The travelers quoted unidentified Iraqi officials as saying demonstrators shot and killed 10 officials of the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party who tried to stop the protest in Diwaniya, south of Baghdad. It was the first known demonstration against Saddam since the war began, the travelers said.

Lt. Gen. Iyad Khalifa, commander of Iraq's Republican Guards, the battle-hardened force that U.S. military leaders consider Iraq's most formidable, said today that his force has not been deterred by allied bombing and would repulse invading troops, Reuter reported.

Khalifa, in a statement carried by Baghdad radio, said his force possessed "sophisticated and modern weapons" and would "repulse the heathen alliance led by America in the mother of all battles."

He said that despite the intensive allied air raids on the Republican Guards, "when the infidels are defeated it will be established that the casualties are very small and the world militarists will laugh at them. The Republican Guards have succeeded in absorbing enemy strikes which have now become something routine and to which we got accustomed."

After a three-day lull attributed to bad weather and poor visibility, allied bombardment of Baghdad resumed overnight and today, correspondent Peter Arnett of Cable News Network reported. Late today, he said there were two "very large explosions" in the center of the city, apparently caused by cruise missiles, but he said he did not know what sites were hit.

Arnett also said the director of the Medical Institute of Baghdad told him and other reporters that "about 315 bodies . . . most of them children" had been recovered from a structure bombed by U.S. planes last week. Iraq has called the structure a civilian bomb shelter but U.S. officials said it was a military command center.

Although Iraq's official news media continued to declare Iraqi forces' willingness to fight, Al Thawra, newspaper of the Baath Party, also spoke of hopes for peace and the Soviet role toward bringing it about. "There are high hopes and expectations in Moscow that the Iraqi-Soviet talks will be a decisive turning point between war and peace," it said.

But Al Qadissiyah, newspaper of the armed forces, said, "The army has prepared all necessary means and power to make the ground war a killing zone and a graveyard for all the invaders dispatched to the region."

Both editorials, however, appeared before Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz concluded his talks in Moscow.

Rhetoric aside, Iraq appeared to be relying on behind-the-scenes diplomacy involving Iran and the Soviet Union to find a way of avoiding a land war and a showdown widely expected to crush Iraq's military force.

Soviet leaders recently have met with Iraqi, Iranian and Kuwaiti officials in Moscow, Tehran and Baghdad. Aziz, who met Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati before going to Moscow, was scheduled to confer again with Iranian officials before returning to Iraq.

Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said today there was a "bright prospect" for a solution.

There is a sense here in Jordan that pressure from the Soviet Union's Islamic republics, which are subject to influence from Iran and Iraq, and objections to the battering of Iraq by some in the Soviet military, which once was closely allied with Iraq, are behind Moscow's diplomatic offensive.

The Jordanian press, overtly sympathetic to Iraq and aware of the strategy of its leaders, has given top billing to the Soviet role.

An editorial in Amman's Al Rai newspaper this morning said the Soviets are working to "put an end to the bloodshed of Arabs in Iraq."

Al Rai noted a number of statements issued by leaders of the Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan "that strongly condemned the savage American raids against the Moslems of Iraq, and officially asked President {Mikhail} Gorbachev to exert all efforts to halt" them.

Baghdad radio today denounced Britain, which admitted that one of its bombs had missed a targeted bridge and gone astray, hitting the Iraqi town of Fallujah, killing about 100 civilians.

It said the British were "competing with their American friends" to "hit residential districts and other civilian targets, and it accused Britain of trying to recreate the glory of its old empire."