Hussein Blasts Order to Destroy Missiles

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Saddam Hussein called his banned Al Samoud 2 missiles a "minor issue" Wednesday and said the U.N. order to destroy them was a ploy to demoralize the Iraqi people before an American attack.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, declared Iraqi compliance with the missile destruction to be fraudulent and said Iraq had ordered the production of new Al Samoud 2s as U.N. inspectors supervised the destruction of the old ones.

It was not clear whether Saddam's comments would affect the destruction process, which began by the world body's March 1 deadline and has eliminated 28 of an estimated stock of 100, including nine on Wednesday.

"After they could not find weapons of mass destruction because they do not exist, the enemy has begun to focus on minor issues, including the rockets," Saddam told a group of senior army commanders Wednesday in a meeting shown on state television.

"Do they reach Israel? No. Do they reach the United States? No. Why do they focus on this detail? Because they think that such minor issues will affect your morale."

The comments were his first on the Al Samoud 2s since the start of the destruction, which chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered because some tests indicated they fly farther than the 93 miles allowed by the United Nations.

Iraq took another step in the past week to show the United Nations that it is cooperating with the inspection process before a possible vote on a new U.N. resolution authorizing military action.

The Iraqis reported a site where bombs containing biological material had been unilaterally destroyed in 1991, and the inspectors have begun testing the contents on bombs that were unearthed. Inspectors returned Wednesday to the disposal site.

They also interviewed an Iraqi scientist, the seventh since Friday, when Iraq began pressuring the scientists to grant private interviews.

Iraqi security forces, meanwhile, paraded defiantly through Baghdad in an attempt to raise public morale, and built defenses in anticipation of a battle for the city.

Marching with thousands of policemen, firefighters and civil defense forces on a major Baghdad avenue, 60 men clad in white pledged to seek martyrdom for Iraq.

Chanting "long live the leader," the "martyrdom seekers" said they would launch suicide attacks against any invading troops.

Saddam has said repeatedly in recent weeks that foreign invaders would meet "suicide" at the gates of the Iraqi capital.

Growing signs of war preparations emerged in the Iraqi capital, with an increasing number of sandbagged positions and foxholes appearing outside key installations, major intersections and government buildings.

More armed police in full combat gear have been deployed on the capital's streets. On the city's southern approaches, larger sandbagged positions and trenches are visible on both sides of the highway.

Saddam has publicly acknowledged the technological superiority of the U.S. military, repeatedly stating that the real battle against the United States would be on the ground, where Iraqis would be helped by knowledge of the terrain.

Meanwhile, the chief of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, said it is improbable that Iraq would try to launch a pre-emptive strike against Israel ahead of the U.S. campaign.

The United States is prepared militarily for an offensive to begin as soon as next week, depending on diplomatic developments, he said.