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Iraq Shows Increasing Signs of Compliance, says Blix - 2003-03-05

The chief United Nations weapons inspector for Iraq says Baghdad is showing increasing signs of complying with U.N. disarmament demands but would like as long as four more months to continue his work.

Hans Blix calls Iraq's decision to begin destroying its short-range al-Samoud 2 missiles a sign of "very active" disarmament. That's a change from the report he delivered to the Security Council just last Friday, presented a day before Iraq began destroying its missiles in which he characterized Baghdad's disarmament as limited at best.

In addition to destroying missiles, Mr. Blix says seven Iraqi scientists have now given private interviews to weapons inspectors without Iraqi government minders present - all of this a sign, he said, that inspections need to be given more time. "It seems to me it would be a rather short time to just close the door and say this is it," said Mr. Blix.

But ahead of an appearance before the Security Council set for Friday, he told reporters a number of disarmament issues remain unresolved and that it may be impossible to ever come to a complete accounting given the fact that for four years, no weapons inspectors were in Iraq, until they returned last November.

"If they give me four more months, I think I can settle it in that period," predicted Mr. Blix. "That sort of suggests that I have confidence that they will cooperate sufficiently to succeed in answering the question in that time. I would not dare to give any check on that they would do so, because the track record has not been good. They have been very active, I would say, even proactive in the last month or so. But in the past, of course, the track record was not so good."

Still to be answered are questions involving Iraq's alleged stocks of chemical and biological weapons which Mr. Blix says Baghdad has not fully accounted for. Iraq maintains it destroyed all such weapons at the end of the Gulf War 12 years ago. The United States and Britain maintain Iraq continues to build and hide banned weapons and that Baghdad has now lost its last chance to disarm peacefully.