Originally created 03/03/03

Iraq destroys more missiles, but says it may stop if U.S. wants war



BAGHDAD, Iraq -- With U.N. weapons inspectors looking on, Iraq destroyed six Al Samoud 2 missiles Sunday but warned it may suspend the destruction program if the United States indicates it will go to war anyway.

In two days, Iraq has destroyed 10 of the banned weapons, about a tenth of its stock of the missiles, which the United Nations has ordered eliminated. It has also destroyed two casting chambers used to make engines for the Al Fatah missile. Iraq destroyed those chambers in the 1990s, only to rebuild them.

"As you can see, there is proactive cooperation from the Iraqi side," Saddam Hussein's scientific adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, said at a news conference.

"Practically all the areas of concern to UNMOVIC (the U.N. inspection team) and the subjects of remaining disarmament questions have been addressed," he said. "We hope that it will be to the satisfaction of UNMOVIC."

But he cautioned that if the United States indicated it will go to war anyway, Iraq might stop destroying the missiles, which fly farther than the 93 miles allowed by the United Nations.

"If it turns out at an early stage during this month that America is not going to a legal way, then why should we continue?" al-Saadi asked.

The United States, which is leading the push for war against Iraq, derided the beginning of the destruction on Saturday. A White House spokeswoman called Iraq's move "part of its game of deception."

Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that "destroying all of the missiles is not enough for me."

He said Iraq also needed to account for "all of the other weapons of mass destruction that we know have not been accounted for."

Inspectors returned Sunday to al-Aziziya, an abandoned helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it destroyed R-400 bombs filled with biological weapons in 1991.

Al-Saadi said 157 of the R-400 bombs contained anthrax, aflotoxin and botulin toxin. He said Iraq has been excavating them and so far has uncovered eight bombs intact.

On Sunday, U.N. weapons inspectors took samples of the material in the bombs to confirm their composition.

Al-Saadi said Iraq had destroyed 1.5 tons of VX and was trying to prove that to inspectors.

Meeting another key U.N. demand, a biological expert submitted to an interview Saturday. Two others, however, refused to do so without a witness or a tape recorder, while a fourth could not be located.

On Sunday, a scientist refused to give an interview, according to Iraq's foreign ministry.

Interviews resumed Friday night after nearly a month in which all scientists refused to talk without a witness or a tape recorder. Al-Saadi said Iraq was encouraging the scientists to speak without recording their conversations, but noted it couldn't force them to.

Iraq has agreed to destroy all unassembled pieces, software, launchers, fuel and equipment used to make the Al Samoud 2 in "a few days or a very short few weeks," according to Demetrius Perricos, the deputy of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Al-Saadi indicated it is not easy for Iraq to do that. He said Iraq won't let anyone see photographs or video images of the missile destruction - despite the potential impact on world opinion - because it would be too bitter for the Iraqi people to watch.

"It is too harsh. It is unacceptable," he said somberly. "That's why we have released no pictures."

Instead, Iraqis saw Saddam on Sunday night's television news, listening to a string of army officers telling him of their readiness for war. One said recruits are refusing to take their days off, and another said soldiers are digging trenches to protect themselves from bombs.

One officer told Saddam that American planes are dropping leaflets. The U.S. military said it dropped 240,000 leaflets in northern Iraq and 360,000 in southern Iraq on Saturday alone.

"They weren't able to defeat us with bombs. Are they going to defeat us with leaflets?" Saddam asked the officer.

Al-Saadi argued for continued inspections. He said U.S. claims that Iraq isn't disarming are lies - and said the only way to find out is with an independent arbiter.

"We need a judge on this issue," he said. "The judge is UNMOVIC."

Al-Saadi also appealed to Americans' pocketbooks.

"UNMOVIC costs $80 million a year. A war would cost upwards of $80 billion - plus bloodshed on both sides," he said. He pointed out that UNMOVIC is financed by Iraq's oil-for-food program and asked which of two possibilities made more sense:

"Disarmament - peaceful - at no cost to the American taxpayer. A war - $80 billion - to achieve disarmament."