BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq will begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles on Saturday, the last day of a deadline given by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, Iraqi sources said Friday.
Iraq had earlier protested Blix's order, which says the missiles must be blown up, crushed, cut into pieces or otherwise destroyed because they fly farther than the 93-mile limit imposed by the U.N. Security Council at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq maintains some of the missiles overshot the limit because they were tested without warheads or guidance systems. In a letter to Blix on Thursday, Saddam Hussein's scientific adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, said the order was unjust.
"The decision to destroy (the missiles) was unjust and did not take into consideration the scientific facts regarding the issue," he wrote. "The timing of this request seems to us to be one with political aims."
Al-Saadi said he agreed "in principle" to destroy the missiles, but the sources in Baghdad provided the first word that Iraq would comply by the Saturday deadline.
Al-Saadi asked Blix to dispatch a technical team to discuss the "framework and timetable" for carrying out the order, but Blix's top deputy, Demetrius Perricos, was already in Baghdad to discuss "the pace of the destruction" with the Iraqis.
A spokesman in Baghdad wouldn't comment on Perricos' activities or schedule.
Iraq's chief liaison to the U.N. inspectors, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, could not be reached for comment. No other Iraqi government officials commented publicly on the missiles.
The issue of the Al Samoud 2 missiles has become a litmus test of Iraq's will to comply with the weapons inspections. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have threatened war if they don't see Iraq as complying.
Blair, speaking Friday at a news conference in Madrid, belittled the Iraqi concession. He referred to a CBS interview Monday in which Saddam suggested he might not destroy the missiles.
"The moment I heard ... that Saddam Hussein was saying he would not destroy the missiles was the moment that I knew later in the week that he would announce -- just before Dr. Blix reported -- that he would indeed destroy these missiles," Blair said.
"He never makes any concessions at all other than with the threat of force hanging over him."
Iraq, which has accused Blair and Bush of being set on war no matter what it does, prepared for battle.
Iraqi troops moved into new positions around President Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, the base for many of the elite Republican Guard troops who are expected to provide the bulk of resistance to any invading force.
Travelers on Thursday saw dozens of tanks being transported by truck from the northern city of Mosul to an area near Tikrit. Both tanks and anti-aircraft guns were dug in at a long string of deep trenches with only their turrets exposed near Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Dozens of armored personnel carriers rumbled both ways along the route.
In Washington, U.S. intelligence said part of the Adnan Republican Guard division based near Mosul had been moving south. It also reported concentrations of forces moving into the Baghdad area.
Bush administration officials called the moves a further effort to protect Saddam's power centers.
Saddam, his son Qusai, the defense minister and the minister of military industries all met Thursday with soldiers and military researchers, who promised not to let the leadership down, the official Iraqi News Agency said.
The U.N. Security Council was considering a U.S.-backed resolution that would authorize war, as well as a French-led proposal to continue with the weapons inspections. A heated closed-door discussion on Thursday did little to bridge deep differences on the council.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia is ready to veto the U.S. resolution if needed to preserve "international stability."
U.N. inspectors in Iraq, meanwhile, found some fragments of R-400 bombs armed with biological weapons Iraq says it destroyed in 1991 at an airfield near the town of al-Aziziya, 60 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Inspectors on Thursday supervised workers who drilled holes in eight remaining 155mm artillery shells filled with mustard gas that Iraq reported to the inspectors, according to inspectors' spokesman, Hiro Ueki.