Iraq to Start Destroying Ballistic Missiles
By Andrew Woodcock, Political Correspondent, PA News
Iraq was today expected to start destroying ballistic missiles, in the largest act of disarmament since United Nations weapons inspections resumed last November.
Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday dismissed Baghdad’s offer to give up the Al-Samoud 2 missiles as an empty gesture, designed to undermine the unity of the international community.
But chief weapons inspector Hans Blix hailed it as “a very significant piece of real disarmament”.
In the light of the development, he said he would amend the critical assessment of his latest report to the UN Security Council.
The 17-page draft report, which had accused Iraq of “very limited” co-operation with his Unmovic team over the last three months, was handed to security council members late last night.
“The Iraqi side at the present time is very active, I’d say,” said Dr Blix. “We’ll say next week what I’ll report in addition to the written report. Of course as reality changes my report changes.”
Unmovic spokesman Hiro Ueki said Dr Blix’s deputy Demetrius Perricos would meet Iraqi officials this morning for a “technical discussion on the Al-Samoud 2 with a view to commencing the destruction process” later today.
Dr Blix had named today as the deadline for Saddam Hussein to give up the Al-Samoud arsenal, which breaches UN restrictions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War barring Iraq from possessing missiles with a range of more than 150km (93 miles).
He ordered Saddam on February 21 to blow up, crush or dismantle the rockets after tests in which Unmovic inspectors found they could reach up to 180km.
Also to be eliminated under the supervision of UN inspectors were warheads, fuel and oxidiser for the missiles, along with 380 illegally-imported SA2 engines and other components.
In a letter to Dr Blix yesterday accepting his demands, Iraq insisted that the missiles had overshot their intended range only because they were not carrying heavy guidance systems and warheads and protested that the order to destroy them was “unjust”.
Baghdad declared 76 Al-Samouds, though some analysts believe that it possesses as many as 100 or 120.
Mr Blair said that he had always expected Saddam to announce his willingness to comply with the destruction of the missiles at the very last minute.
He told Labour activists in Swansea: “Naturally Saddam will play his game, throwing out concessions to divide us, to try to weaken our will. He’s done it for 12 long years. He’s at it now.
“Does anybody think he would be making any concessions but for the army camped on his doorstep?”
The world risked being plunged into “a living nightmare” if it did not act to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction now, he warned.
And he stressed that a long-drawn-out series of concessions by Baghdad was not enough to satisfy UN resolutions, which required full disarmament of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and free access to scientists with knowledge of Iraq’s WMD programmes.
In an interview with today’s Guardian newspaper, Mr Blair warned that anti-war protests in Britain sent a “mixed message” to Baghdad, encouraging Saddam to believe that the West was not serious about dealing with him.
“I am sufficiently well-versed in politics now to realise the strength of the opposition and the difficulties it can put me in,” he said. “I am not oblivious to that.”
“In the end, people have to vote how they feel. But my job is to say how I feel... why I believe that what we are doing is right and why I believe that to what the opponents of my position want us to do would be very, very dangerous for our country and the world.”
Saddam’s decommissioning offer was welcomed by security council “doves” including France and Germany, and left agreement on a second resolution looking more unlikely than ever.
French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said: “There is no reason to discontinue the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. We are opposed to the draft second resolution, as is a majority of the security council, and notably Russia.”
Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said Russia was ready to veto the resolution, jointly tabled by the US, UK and Spain, to preserve ”international stability”.
But US president George Bush gave his clearest indication that he was ready to order an assault on Iraq without the backing of the council.
The resolution was no more than “a commitment to our allies and friends”, he said.
Whatever the outcome of discussions in the security council this week, the Iraqi leader would be made to give up his suspected weapons of mass destruction.
“My attitude about Saddam Hussein is that if he had any intention of disarming, he would have disarmed,” he said. “We will disarm him now.”
Britain and America are currently seeking the support of seven non-permanent members of the security council who have yet to state their position on the resolution. As part of the charm offensive, Foreign Office minister Baroness Amos was visiting the capitals of three non-permanent members, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola.
London and Washington are hoping to gain approval for the resolution – which would effectively authorise war – by the middle of March. To win the council’s backing, they must secure the votes of nine of the 15 member-nations while avoiding the veto of France, Russia or China.
Meanwhile, Arab leaders were meeting in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, later today.
Arab foreign leaders last night agreed a statement, expected to be released later, rejecting any attack on Iraq not sanctioned by the United Nations, diplomats said.
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was today beginning a visit to Kuwait, where the bulk of British troops in the Gulf are based.
He was due to meet British ambassador Chris Wilton, the Speaker of Kuwait’s National Assembly Jassim Al-Kharafi and representatives of the National Committee of Missing Persons and POWs, which is demanding that Saddam explain what has happened to Kuwaitis still missing after the 1991 conflict.
Mr Duncan Smith was tomorrow set to meet RAF aircrew at the Ali Al-Salem air base and tour a Royal Navy vessel stationed in the Gulf.
Iraq expected to scrap missiles
by Niko Price AP
BAGHDAD, Iraq (March 1) - A top U.N. weapons inspector met with an Iraqi general Saturday to work out final details of Iraq's destruction of its Al Samoud 2 missile program, expected to begin within hours.
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