Report: U.K., U.S. prepared to attack Iraq after UN vote
[Ha'aretz - 3 March:
The United Nations confirmed Saturday evening that Iraq had completed the destruction of all four of the Al Samoud 2 missiles as British ministers told the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph that America and Britain are prepared to launch military action as soon as the UN Security Council votes on a second resolution - even if the resolution is not approved.
Senior ministers told the Sunday edition of the Telegraph that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was prepared to launch military action over the objections of parliament members and regardless of whether Britain, the United States and Spain secured a majority vote for a second resolution in the UN.
The report of the British-American decision came as Iraq destroyed the Al Samoud 2 missiles, Iraq and the UN agreed to a timetable to dismantle the rest of Iraq's missile program and UN weapons inspectors resumed interviews with Iraqi scientists.
The interviews and the missile destruction - both key demands of the weapons inspectors - are likely to affect next week's address to the UN Security Council by chief inspector Hans Blix, who praised the decision to destroy the missiles. "It is a very significant piece of real disarmament," he said.
An Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity that four missiles were destroyed Saturday afternoon in the Al-Taji area, 30 kilometers north of Baghdad. Hiro Ueki, the spokesman for the UN inspectors, said he could only issue details once the inspectors returned to base.
Iraqi Information Ministry's senior official Uday Al-Taie said senior inspector Dimitri Perricos and General Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam, discussed technical points and "agreed on a schedule and a work plan for the coming days."
Al-Taie said they also agreed on "the sites of destruction, the manner of destruction and the priorities." An Information Ministry spokesman said Saturday's destruction marked the beginning of what would be a destruction of the entire missile system, as ordered by Blix.
Al-Taie also said a team of UN weapons inspectors would seize a mold used to make solid fuel at the Al Rasheed Company "in order to prepare it for destruction tomorrow."
Saturday was the deadline for beginning the destruction of the finned white rockets and all their components because tests indicated some fly farther than allowed.
Early word of the planned destruction was greeted with celebration by governments opposed to war and skepticism by those advocating it. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that U.S. President George W. Bush "views this as continued trickery, continued deception. I think it's fair to say that the Iraqi regime is a deception wrapped in a lie inside a fraud."
He said Bush expected Iraq to destroy some of its missiles, but won't settle for anything less than full disarmament. He didn't specify what that would mean.
European governments opposed to war said Iraq's decision on the missiles reinforced their opinion that weapons inspections were weakening Saddam Hussein's military capabilities. "It is an important step in the process of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said. "It confirms that inspectors are getting results."
Ueki also said Saturday that inspectors had resumed interviews with Iraqi biological weapons experts and missile scientists, another key Blix demand. The inspectors say debriefing scientists who worked on Iraq's programs to build weapons of mass destruction is key to their mission: verifying whether Iraq, as it claims, has dismantled those programs.
Biological, chemical and missiles teams had not conducted an interview since February 7 in a dispute over whether the scientists could record them, which the inspectors felt would make them less candid.
Ueki said two interviews - with an Iraqi biological weapons expert and a missile expert - had been conducted Friday evening, and that no tape recorders were used. "This is positive news," he said.
The two developments were expected to influence an address next week by Blix to the deeply divided UN Security Council, which is considering a U.S.-led resolution that would authorize war against Iraq for not complying with the inspections. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia would veto the U.S.-backed resolution if needed to preserve "international stability."
The council also is considering a French-led proposal to continue with inspections.
In Blix's 13-page report, delivered to the UN Security Council on Friday, he was highly critical of Iraq's overall disarmament efforts in the last three months, calling them "very limited so far."
But the report was written before the two latest developments, and Blix said a shift in Iraq's compliance could change his assessment before an address to the Security Council next week.
Blix ordered Iraq to begin destroying the missiles by Saturday after examining 40 test flights. In 13 of them, the missile flew farther than the 150-kilometer limit set by UN resolutions after the 1991 Gulf War. In 27 test flights, the missile flew below the limit.
Iraq maintains that some missiles overshot the limit only because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems. It called the decision unjust and appealed for technical discussions with UN inspectors.
"We have accepted destruction of those missiles, although they do not constitute a serious violation of the UN resolutions, but we want to remove any pretext that there may be to wage aggression against Iraq," Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tareq Aziz, told delegates to a conference in Mexico City by telephone.
Iraq is believed to have between 100 and 120 of the missiles, and UN inspectors say it has continued to produce and test them in recent days. Although still in development and relatively unreliable, inspectors say some of the missiles have been deployed to military units.
The order said Iraq must destroy the missiles, their unassembled components, fuel, engines, launchers and software. The program that created the missiles also must go - its scientists dispersed and its records wiped out.
U.S. analysts worry that if Iraq is still hiding chemical and biological weapons, it could load them on the Al Samoud 2 to target U.S. forces deployed in the Persian Gulf region, now 225,000 strong.
Iraq has begun taking inspectors to disposal sites where it says it unilaterally destroyed biological weapons. Inspectors returned Saturday to al-Aziziya, an abandoned helicopter airfield 100 kilometers southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it destroyed R-400 bombs filled with biological weapons in 1991.
At the site, bulldozers moved mounds of earth to reveal rusty, dirt-caked warheads and bomb fragments, some as large as cars. Nearby, missiles bearing UN identification tags rusted in a parched field. Overhead, an American U-2 reconnaissance plane flew over Iraq for more than six hours Friday - the fourth such flight in support of the UN inspections, Iraq said.
Inspectors also visited a military unit responsible for securing Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, and a base of the elite Republican Guard near Baghdad on Saturday.
Travelers and U.S. intelligence sources have recently reported that the Republican Guard has been converging on Tikrit and Baghdad, preparing for what many see as a final stand in the event of a U.S. invasion.
By News Agencies and Haaretz Service