- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 8 (UPI) — Iraq on Saturday resumed the destruction of its al-Samoud 2 missiles after a one-day halt in the dismantling operation of the banned weapon.

An Information Ministry spokesman said six of these missiles were dismantled on Saturday, bringing the total number of destroyed missiles to 40 since last Saturday.

He also noted the destruction operation stopped for a one-day holiday to make up for three missiles that were destroyed on Tuesday, which was a public Muslim holiday marking the Islamic New Year. U.N chief weapons inspector Hans Blix had mentioned the stoppage Friday in his report to the U.N. Security Council, saying he hoped it was temporary.

U.N. weapons experts determined two weeks ago that the al-Samoud 2 exceeded the range limit of 150 kilometers (93 miles) imposed on Iraq after its defeat in 1991 at the hands of U.S.-led forces. The Gulf War was triggered by Iraq's invasion of its southern neighbor Kuwait.

In the meantime, the international weapons inspectors paid unannounced visits to 10 new sites suspected of involvement in developing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They inspected al-Taji, the site where al-Samoud 2 missiles were destroyed last week, and al-Aziziya, where chemical and biological R-400 bombs were being unearthed in the past two weeks. Iraq said it destroyed them and buried them at the site in the summer of 1991.

The Information Ministry said the weapons experts also visited two privately owned companies, as well as a visit to an undisclosed site in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 270 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital, Baghdad.

Friday's report presented by Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, garnered mixed reactions among Iraqis Saturday, ranging between cautious optimism and suspicion amid U.S. insistence on plans to launch military operations against Iraq.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein called for ending the economic sanctions "totally and comprehensively" against the country, according to a statement released after he met with his top advisers Saturday. He said the inspector chiefs' reports showed Iraq had conformed to U.N. requirements to disarm.

"The embargo against Iraq would be lifted totally and comprehensively after America's motives were revealed to the world and after Iraq abided by Security Council resolutions," declared Saddam, as reported by the Jordan-based Al-Bawaba Internet news service.

A commentary on state-owned Iraq Television called on international public opinion to note what it described as "the facts presented by Blix and elBaradei, which proves Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction."

Babel daily, run by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday, described the two chief experts as "fair to Iraq," saying the report was a surprise to all, but not to Iraq. It said: "Iraq knows what steps and big sacrifices it has made in dealing with Security Council Resolution 1441."

Babel praised the speeches of the Security Council members, except those presented by the foreign ministers of Britain and the United States. One comment described U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as looking "like he's about to cry in a wedding party."

The paper accused Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of "trying to swim against the current," insisting that "what happened in the Security Council yesterday shows that its members recognize the dangerous American and British trends that are pushing the world to the abyss."

On the street level, some Iraqis said they could not believe that a U.S. war was nearing, despite the Iraqi U.N. ambassador's speech in which Mohammed al-Douri said, "The war the U.S. and Britain want to launch on my country seems imminent."

Others, however, said that only a miracle could prevent a war on their country.

In the United States, the military's Central Command reported U.S. and British fighter aircraft had bombed a mobile missile guidance radar system, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) west of Baghdad, in the early hours of Saturday. In a statement, Central Command said the reaction was "in response to Iraqi threats to coalition aircraft" enforcing no-fly zones set up to protect Shia Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north from attack by Baghdad.

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