BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.N. weapons inspectors tagging Al Samoud 2 missiles for destruction were met Saturday by an irate factory director, who pleaded with them to let Iraq keep its weapons so it can defend itself in the face of war.
Nine inspectors, many wearing blue U.N. caps and black leather jackets, pulled up in sports utility vehicles at the Ibn al-Haithem company on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, which is involved in producing the missile.
Splitting into three groups, the men entered "workshops, assembly areas and all departments. They tagged some of the missiles that were being assembled," according to Owayed Ahmed Ali, director of the factory.
Ali said he pleaded with them not to force Iraq to destroy the missiles, as chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix ordered it to do Friday. Blix said U.N.-supervised destruction of all Al Samoud 2 missiles, warheads, fuel, engines and other components must begin by March 1.
"I asked (the inspectors), `You would destroy a defensive weapon now that we are threatened by the Americans, who might strike at any moment?"' he said.
"Some said, `You are right, but we have orders,' while others said, `You have other means to defend yourself."'
Ali said threats of war by the United States and Britain, who have assembled some 200,000 troops around Iraq for a possible invasion, make it difficult for Iraq to give up the weapons it needs to defend itself.
"They want to destroy them at a time when we are threatened daily — every minute and every second," he said.
No Iraqi official has commented publicly on Blix's order to destroy the weapons, which exceed the 93-mile range limit set by U.N. resolutions adopted at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
An assistant to Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison to the U.N. inspectors, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he still hadn't seen the chief inspector's letter and couldn't comment.
Mohammed Modhaffar al-Adhami, a member of Iraq's parliament, said Friday he believed Iraq would destroy the missiles if so ordered, because refusing could give Iraq's enemies an excuse to launch an attack.
President Saddam Hussein told a Cabinet meeting that Iraq will win any war against the United States, according to Al-Shabab Television, which is owned by Saddam's son Odai.
"Victory will be yours, God willing," Al-Shabab quoted him as telling his ministers. "I am not saying this to raise your enthusiasm, but because I know victory is coming as if I had seen it."
In the footage aired Saturday night, Saddam was shown smoking a cigar as he presided over the meeting, but an announcer read his comments.
"This battle will settle many things and will restore to the nation its dignity, God willing," he was quoted as saying. "They were attacking us in 1991 and no one said anything. Now there are people protesting in Germany, America, Britain and other countries."
The United States and Britain accuse Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, despite U.N. bans on both. Iraq denies holding such weapons and says its enemies have their eyes on Iraq's oil and on world domination.
Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s nuclear agency and one of the leaders of the U.N. inspections, said peace was still possible but he wanted to see more cooperation from Iraq.
"We have not finished our work in Iraq. We are not getting full cooperation from Iraq but we hope to get it next week. We'd also like to see active cooperation (from Iraq) in freely interviewing Iraqi scientists," ElBaradei said as he finished a two-day trip to Iran.
"We still believe that war is not inevitable."
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan headed to Malaysia for the nonaligned nations' summit. Before leaving, he told the official Iraq News Agency that he will try to "find the means to unify stances against American hegemony."
In addition to Ibn al-Haitham, which conducts the final assembly of the Al Samoud 2, inspectors visited Al Nasser, which makes Al Samoud 2 components, and checked on an engine test stand, spokesman Hiro Ueki said.
Inspectors also visited a laboratory that analyzes missile fuel and measured radiation west of Baghdad. Members of a team visiting the northern city of Mosul tagged equipment related to missile development and testing and visited the medical college of Mosul University, he said.
Meanwhile, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark — a major figure of the U.S. anti-war movement — flew into Baghdad on Saturday to meet with officials and to see whether war is a foregone conclusion.
In an interview in his hotel room, Clark told The Associated Press that there is only one way to avoid war: "George Bush and his top advisers would have to change their minds." He described that as a real possibility.
"I think (Bush) has already been delayed weeks beyond what he wanted," he said. "They may decide they just can't risk going forward, as badly as they want to. I think they've had to take pause at the big peace demonstrations."
Clark planned to meet with Iraq's health minister, hospital officials and with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to check on preparations to help civilians survive a war. He said he doubted he would meet with Saddam himself, as he has during previous trips.
Clark said he would leave it to the weapons inspectors to determine whether Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction, but said the U.N. insistence that Iraq prove it doesn't have any is unrealistic.
"There is no way to prove that there are no more," he said.