Originally created 03/07/03

Iraq destroys more missiles, a third now flattened



BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi bulldozers flattened six more Al Samoud 2 missiles Thursday, meaning the country has now destroyed a third of its known stock of the banned rockets on the eve of a key report to the U.N. Security Council about its disarmament.

Iraq said three civilians were killed in a strike by U.S.-British coalition air patrols west of the capital, as the country built fighting positions and deployed policemen with assault rifles on Baghdad's streets in preparation for war. Hundreds of Russians began fleeing Iraq.

The destruction of the Al Samoud 2 missiles brought to 34 the number of rockets crushed since last weekend. Iraq was estimated to have about 100 missiles before chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered them destroyed because some tests indicated the missiles could fly farther than the 93 miles allowed under U.N. resolutions.

Iraq complied with the U.N. order in an attempt to show it is disarming and to prevent a threatened U.S.-led attack. But with 230,000 American troops massing at its southern border, Iraq was clearly preparing for the worst.

More sandbagged fighting positions and foxholes appeared throughout the Iraqi capital, and policemen in green helmets and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles lined key intersections. The fighting positions, previously seen only outside key installations, now dot the entire city.

"If the American administration goes ahead and attacks Iraq, it will be committing an act of absolute foolishness," President Saddam Hussein told a Cabinet meeting, the official Iraqi News Agency said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush and congressional leaders have discussed a timetable for deciding on war, but he said the president was not specific.

"The one timetable that the president identified that remains operative is when on Jan. 30 he said weeks, not months," Fleischer said.

With war perhaps drawing nearer, hundreds of Russians waited at Saddam International Airport, where three charter flights to Moscow were listed on the departures board, witnesses said. Journalists were told not to go to the airport.

An official at the Russian Embassy who wouldn't give his name said "as many as 600" Russian citizens were leaving on two charter flights Thursday. He hung up when pressed for details.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has said the Emergency Situations Ministry would fly Russian workers and their families out of Iraq by Sunday, according to the Interfax news agency. It said the Russian Embassy will continue to operate.

U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the southern Iraqi "no-fly zone" attacked what coalition officials said was a mobile surface-to-air missile system and an anti-aircraft battery west of Baghdad.

But Iraq said the raid was on a "civilian and service installation," and that three civilians were killed. There was no way to verify the claim.

U.S. and British planes have been enforcing "no-fly" zones in north and south Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War. They originally were intended to protect minority Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south from Iraqi government forces.

A senior defense official in Washington said the coalition has nearly tripled the number of patrols and given them another purpose: to keep Iraqi defenders off-guard and mask the start of combat.

Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors went Thursday to al-Aziziya, a former helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it unilaterally destroyed 157 R-400 bombs armed with biological weapons in 1991.

The inspectors have been overseeing excavations of the buried bombs and taking samples of the liquid inside those still intact to see if it includes - as Iraq claims - anthrax, aflatoxin and botulin toxin.

Iraq also has opened a pit where it says it dumped stocks of anthrax and VX, along with neutralizing agents, around the same time. Iraq has asked inspectors to analyze soil samples to verify the unilateral destruction, but the inspectors are skeptical and haven't gone yet.

Blix was scheduled to deliver a crucial report to the U.N. Security Council on Friday assessing Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors, who are trying to determine whether Saddam had continued to develop weapons of mass destruction despite a U.N. ban.

Blix spoke of "greater efforts being made" by the Iraqis and said the inspections have limited Iraq's military capacity.

"Whatever capability (Iraq) has, it's smaller than before, and it is very closely guarded," he said.

But the United States - which is leading the drive for war - has been skeptical of changes in Iraq's position. Secretary of State Colin Powell called them "too-little, too-late gestures" and continued to lobby for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war.

Russia, France and Germany said Wednesday they would block any U.N. authorization for military action, and China said Thursday it agrees with their position. Russia, France and China all hold vetoes on the council.