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UN Moves 5 Inspection Helicopters Out of Iraq - 2003-03-16


Iraq says five United Nations helicopters have been evacuated to Cyprus because of possible war. Meanwhile, Iraq continues to destroy its most advanced surface-to-surface missile system and says it will soon submit a report on its stocks of anthrax that it claims it destroyed 12 years ago.

U.N. weapons inspectors have been equipped with eight helicopters in their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But Iraqi officials say five of the helicopters have left Baghdad for Syria, en route to Cyprus.

Iraqi officials said the helicopters were withdrawn after western insurers refused to cover the aircraft while Baghdad faces possible war.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein issued a decree late Saturday dividing the country into four military districts under his command and ordered his forces to destroy any foreign-led invasion. According to the decree, the commanders of each district would have under his supervision several armed forces divisions and Ba'ath party militia branches.

The Iraqi president named his younger son, Qusay, to command the key areas of Baghdad and Tikrit.

The air force, air defense units, and surface-to-surface missile units would remain under the command of Saddam Hussein, who also appointed his eldest son, Uday, to take command of all four regions if communications with central command are disrupted.

Despite Iraq's preparations for war, Baghdad continues destroying its banned al-Samoud 2 missiles. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix ruled the missiles could violate a Security Council-mandated 150 kilometer limit. About three-quarters of Iraq's most advanced surface-to-surface missile system has been destroyed since the destruction process began March 1st.

Iraq has invited Mr. Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, to Baghdad to discuss outstanding disarmament issues. Mr. Blix has said he would present the idea to the Security Council on Monday.

A number of unanswered disarmament questions remain, including a full accounting of stocks of anthrax and VX nerve agent that Iraq claims it destroyed in 1991. The AFP news agency reports that Baghdad will deliver a report to the United Nations on its supply of anthrax within two days.