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Destruction of Iraq's Banned Weapons Continues - 2003-03-09

Bulldozers continued to crush banned Al-Samoud 2 missiles in Iraq Sunday. In neighboring Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, a senior official suggested Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein resign.

United Nations officials in Baghdad said the destruction of Iraq's Al-Samoud 2 missiles continued Sunday. Weapons inspectors began destroying the missiles March first, after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said they exceeded a U.N.-mandated limit of 150 kilometers.

Along with the destruction of the surface-to-surface missiles, weapons inspectors have also destroyed warheads, missile engines, a launcher and manufacturing moulds used to produce the banned weapons.

Iraq reported having about 100 of the missiles.

In the meantime, Baghdad has accused the United States of engaging in what it calls a diplomatic and intelligence campaign to get Iraqi diplomats deported from some countries.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Sunday U.S. officials had used "baseless" and "unfounded" pretexts in asking several countries to deport Iraqi diplomats, claiming they posed a threat to American interests.

Last Wednesday, the United States expelled two Iraqi diplomats from the U.N. mission in New York, after the State Department said they were engaged in activities considered harmful to U.S. security. Iraqi officials said the decision violated international law.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia Sunday, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the fastest way to resolve the Iraqi crisis would be for President Saddam Hussein to step down. It is the closest Saudi Arabia has come to endorsing an initiative made earlier this month by the United Arab Emirates. However, the foreign minister said Saudi Arabia would not offer asylum to the Iraqi leader, if he chose to accept the initiative.

Late Saturday, Saudi Arabia's defense minister acknowledged that an airport near the kingdom's border with Iraq has been closed to civilian traffic. Prince Sultan said the airport would be used as a base to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees who may flee to Saudi Arabia in the event of war. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Iraq following the 1991 Gulf war.

Saudi opposition groups had claimed the kingdom was allowing U.S. troops access to the airport as a base for possible U.S. military operations against Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has said it will not participate in any military action against Baghdad, and would not provide facilities to U.S. troops from which to launch attacks against Iraq.