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Iraq Studying UN Demand to Destroy Missiles - 2003-02-23

Iraqi officials say they are studying a U.N. demand that Baghdad destroy its Al-Samoud missiles. A news conference in Baghdad was dominated by discussion on the missile system that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix says violates mandated distance limits.

Iraq has not said whether it will comply with an order to destroy its Al-Samoud missiles.

During the Baghdad news conference, General Hossam Mohammad Amin, of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, acknowledged that Iraq received a letter Friday from Mr. Blix demanding that the missiles be destroyed beginning March 1.

Mr. Blix ordered the destruction because he said the missiles can fly beyond the mandated limit of 150 kilometers. General Amin said he hoped the issue could be resolved by mutual cooperation.

"We are studying the letter of Mr. Blix deeply and comprehensively, and we hope resolving this issue as soon as possible by the cooperation of both sides and by the mutual understanding of both sides," he said.

General Amin said that once the missiles are equipped with guidance and control systems and warheads, the added weight will cause their range to drop below the 150 kilometer limit.

Iraq test fired a rocket engine to show weapons inspectors that the Al-Samoud-2 missile could not violate the 1991 range limit imposed by the United Nations. Iraqi officials said the test firing was the fifth time arms inspectors have witnessed such tests.

General Amin said Iraqi officials were surprised by the order to destroy the missiles that Iraq had listed in its December 7 arms declaration.

The general said destroying the missiles, of which Iraq claims to have about 100, would affect Baghdad's military capabilities, although he said the missile is just one component of Iraq's defense capabilities.

General Amin said Iraq continues to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, is encouraging Iraqi scientists to agree to be interviewed in private and is allowing flights of U-2 reconnaissance planes.

He said a U.N. technical team is due to arrive in Baghdad March 2 to discuss outstanding issues regarding anthrax and the VX nerve agent.