- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Baghdad did not respond Saturday to the declaration by the chief U.N. weapons inspector that Iraq's Al-Samoud 2 missiles must be destroyed, suggesting a confrontation may be in the making between Iraq and the United Nations.

Blix on Friday gave Iraq until March 1 to start disarming the missiles because they exceed the 150-kilometer limit allowed by the United Nations after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has insisted they do not exceed the range.

Iraq has about 100 Samoud 2 missiles, half of which were under construction and the other half had been distributed to military units, according to the director of the manufacturing plant, Mazhar Ahmad.

Iraqi officials Saturday refused to comment on Blix's letter to Iraq on its missiles. A local analyst said that despite the importance of these kinds of missiles in the event of a military confrontation, the Iraqi government was expected to respond "positively and with transparency on this issue to avoid a crisis that could be used as a pretext to launch war on Iraq."

Meanwhile, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein declared Saturday he was confident that the international community will "erupt in protest against the American and British administrations" if they launched a war against his country.

State-owned Iraq television quoted Saddam as telling a Cabinet meeting he chaired that he saw "victory now as I saw it in the past, and the true colors will show." The next battle with the United States would "determine many things, retrieve the dignity to the Arab nation and victory is ours," he added.

To convey Iraq's efforts to cooperate with the United Nations, however, analysts cited comments by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan to Iraq's al-Shabab (Youth) Television on Friday night. Ramadan said his country was ready to offer further cooperation with the international weapons inspectors "to achieve their mission in fully disarming" Iraq.

He also said Baghdad was prepared to start a dialogue with the United States to resolve all issues of differences between the two countries.

The international inspectors charged with searching for and disarming Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the past two weeks focused their visits to installations and plants that manufacture Samoud 2 missiles and its parts, including Al-Samoud and Al-Karamah factories.

According to a letter written by U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix regarding chambers used for casting rocket engines "that had been deemed proscribed and were destroyed under (the previous U.N. inspection regime's) supervision, the panel confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers," the letter said. "These chambers remain proscribed and are to be destroyed."

Blix also said in his letter, addressed to Saddam's scientific adviser Amir Al-Saadi, "the Al-Rafah static test stand under construction would be capable of testing missile engines with thrusts greater than that of the SA-2 engine. The test stand will be monitored."

A Blix spokesman said a second missile, Al-Fatah, was also called into question but clarifications on the data were being sought.

U.N spokesman in the Iraqi capital, Hiro Ueki, said that during their daily visits to Iraqi sites the inspectors stuck labels on 32 such missiles and that the numbering of the rockets were continuing. But he refused to elaborate on whether the inspectors were discussing the issue of Samoud 2 missiles with Iraqi officials.

Iraq appeared to have downplayed the importance or dangers these missiles posed, citing that they were short-range, and that they were not accurate in hitting targets because they lacked guided systems.

Meanwhile, the inspectors continued their visits Saturday to nine sites suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction, including al-Nasr al-Atheem in Baghdad and Ibn al-Haytham Company in the north of the capital, in addition to a deserted installation in Falouja, 70 kilometers (50 miles) west of Baghdad.


(With contributions from William Reilly at the United Nations in New York.)

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