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Iraq Could Begin Destroying Banned Missiles - 2003-02-28

Iraqi sources say Baghdad will comply with U.N. demands that it begin destroying its Al-Samoud 2 missiles by Saturday. News reports quoting the unidentified sources come one day after Iraq sent a letter to the chief U.N. weapons inspector saying Iraq agreed "in principal" to destroy the weapons. The Bush administration responded to the reports by saying Iraq has no real intention of disarming.

Iraq says it possesses about 100 of the missiles that chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has said can exceed the mandated range by 33 kilometers.

Baghdad sent a letter to Mr. Blix Thursday, saying it agreed, in principle, to destroy the missiles, as ordered by the chief weapons inspector. Iraq has complained that the order does not take into consideration its claim that once the missiles are loaded with guidance and control systems and warheads the added weight prevents them from exceeding U.N. mandated limits.

Saddam Hussein has said Iraq has no missiles that exceed proscribed limits.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday Iraq's agreement to destroy the missiles is another indication that Saddam Hussein will only concede to U.N. demands to disarm under the threat of war.

President Bush has said the destruction of the missiles would not be enough to completely satisfy U.N. demands. In remarks Thursday, he described the missiles as just the tip of the iceberg and called for complete disarmament by Iraq.

U.N. technical experts are in Baghdad to discuss the framework and timetable for carrying out Mr. Blix's order to destroy the Al-Samoud 2 missiles.

The 150 kilometer missile range was set by the U.N. Security Council after the 1991 Gulf war. While the limit would still allow Baghdad to launch missiles against its closest neighbors, it would prevent Iraqi missiles from reaching Israel.