BAGHDAD, Iraq – Demonstrators clad in white pledged Wednesday to become martyrs for Iraq, parading through the capital as Saddam Hussein sought to show he had his people's support against a possible U.S.-led war to oust his regime.
The 90-minute parade on a major Baghdad street came as U.N. weapons inspectors oversaw the destruction of nine more Al Samoud 2 missiles. Iraq has crushed 28 of the missiles since March 1, out of about 100 it is believed to have.
Chanting "long live the leader," thousands of policemen, firefighters and civil defense forces joined the march with the 60-member contingent of "martyrdom seekers," who would launch suicide attacks against U.S. troops if they invade Iraq. Saddam has repeatedly said in recent weeks that foreign invaders would meet "suicide" at the gates of the Iraqi capital.
Interior Minister Mahmoud Diab al-Ahmed told reporters that they had chosen martyrdom "for the sake of the nation's glory and dignity and for the sake of humiliating the invaders."
Faced with a massive U.S. military buildup in the region, Iraq has met a March 1 deadline to start scrapping the missiles after U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix said they exceeded the 93-mile range allowed under U.N. resolutions adopted after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq also is prohibited from possessing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
In another bid to show its compliance, Iraq unearthed more buried bombs Wednesday that it says are loaded with anthrax, aflatoxin and botulin toxin. So far, Iraq has unearthed at least eight intact bombs, as well as many fragments, and inspectors are analyzing the contents of the bombs.
Iraq says it unilaterally neutralized, buried and detonated 157 R-400 aerial bombs filled with biological agents at the site in 1991. Most appear to have exploded.
The United States has dismissed the missile destruction as an Iraqi deception and continued to build up its military force in the region. In addition to some 230,000 U.S. forces already deployed, officials said Tuesday that 60,000 more were ordered there in the last few days. They were expected to arrive in a few weeks, one official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraq has been trying to show the United Nations that it is cooperating with the weapons inspectors in advance of a vote on a new U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
That vote had been expected next week, but on Wednesday the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia said they will "not allow" its passage. The White House has left open the possibility that it would not seek a U.N. vote if the measure was clearly headed for defeat.
One option under serious consideration, according to senior White House officials, was having President Bush give Saddam a final ultimatum, perhaps with a short-term deadline, in an address next week.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that the destruction of the Al Samoud 2 system is a "positive development." But when asked whether the move could prevent war, he said that's up to the Security Council.
"I think the council's decision will be based on the totality of the presentation by the inspectors," Annan said in New York. "The council has the right to declare a further military breach at any time based on the reports of the inspectors."
Blix and chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei are to report to the Security Council on Friday on Iraq's compliance with a Nov. 8 resolution giving it a "final chance" to disarm or face "consequences."
On Wednesday, U.N. weapons inspectors wrapped up disposal of shells filled with mustard gas, inspected two chemical plants, visited a trading company and an airfield and went to a state bank, according to spokesman Hiro Ueki.
They also visited a university in Irbil, in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled autonomous region. It was only the second trip they have made to Kurdish controlled-territory, which is outside the control of Iraq's government.