BAGHDAD, Iraq – A top Iraqi official said Sunday he is convinced the United States has decided to go to war but that Iraq's cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors would strengthen opposition on the Security Council to U.S. war plans.
Iraq's chief liaison to the inspectors, Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, belittled a U.S. and British proposal to give Saddam a March 17 ultimatum to disarm or face war, saying Baghdad was trying to meet U.N. inspectors' demands.
"We are working hard to meet our obligations and to overcome any obstacles," he said. "Whether that takes a week, 10 days, or a month, we are doing everything we can. We are not interested in dates and times."
Amin ticked off examples of Iraqi cooperation, saying Baghdad has proven it has no nuclear weapons and will soon prove it has rid itself of biological and chemical weaponry as well.
"We hope that this will guide (U.N. inspectors) to reach the position that Iraq is rid completely of weapons of mass destruction and to recommend to the Security Council the lifting of the unfair sanctions imposed on the courageous Iraqi people," he said.
He said Iraq had received only Sunday a list of outstanding issues from chief inspector Hans Blix, and added Iraq might invite Blix to Baghdad on March 17. He gave no details.
President Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, chaired a high-level meeting Sunday with Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed, several senior military commanders and his two sons: Odai, who commands a pro-government militia, and Qusai, who leads the elite Republican Guard.
"Iraq's leadership, people and army are ready for the battle of destiny," Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish told Saddam, according to the official Iraqi News Agency.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, appeared to move closer to endorsing a proposal by the United Arab Emirates for Saddam to step down to avert war. Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told a newspaper and a television network that it would be the quickest way to resolve the crisis.
The proposal's motives "are not to harm Iraq, but on the contrary to protect Iraq from the evils of a military confrontation," Saud was quoted Sunday as saying. Senior Iraqi officials say Saddam will not step down.
The Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, said the United States was giving Saudi Arabia technical aid to handle a possible surge of Iraqi refugees, and that his country was willing to hold military maneuvers with the United States near the northern town of Tabuk, 60 miles south of the Jordanian border.
He said Saudi Arabia has troops there in case Israel violates Saudi airspace.
Amin, the Iraqi official, said President Bush appears to have made up his mind to go ahead with war despite Iraq's disarmament progress.
"Yes, we believe that," he said. "But there is a probability that the situation will be enhanced by the support of other nations on the Security Council and all the people around the world."
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he was hopeful a majority of council members would vote for the resolution giving Iraq the March 17 ultimatum, but acknowledged it could still be vetoed by permanent members.
"I'm encouraged we might get the nine or 10 votes needed to get passage of the resolution, and we'll see if somebody wants to veto," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Amin said that if Baghdad resolved technical disarmament issues, "we can disarm the British and the Americans of their pretexts."
He said, however, that Iraq would be ready no matter what.
"We are preparing ourselves for a war, and at the same time we are working to resolve remaining issues" with the inspectors, Amin said. "All the people will fight against any foreign forces that try to enter Iraq."
Iraq's armed forces newspaper, Al-Qadissiya, reported Sunday that militias of the ruling Baath Party conducted live-fire war games in three Iraqi provinces on Saturday. It gave no details.
Amin appeared to back off of comments last week by a top Saddam adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, that Iraq would stop destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles if the United States appears set on war.
Amin said he interpreted al-Saadi's comments as meaning that if war begins, the inspectors will leave and be unable to continue with the monitored destruction of the missiles. But he indicated that Iraq will continue with the destruction until the start of war.
He said Iraq destroyed six more missiles on Sunday, bringing the number destroyed since March 1 to 46, almost half of Iraq's original arsenal of 100 Al Samoud 2s.
The United Nations ordered the rockets destroyed because some tests indicated they could fly farther than the 93 miles allowed by the Security Council. Amin said Iraq disagreed with the council's ban, but was destroying the missiles as a political move.
"The destruction of these missiles, yes, diminishes our fighting ability," he said. "But we have other missiles ... enough to defend ourselves. ... This destruction has hurt our fighting ability but also improved our international standing."
Saddam long has claimed Iraq destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction. The United States and Britain maintain he's lying, and have assembled a quarter-million troops around Iraq for a possible invasion.
Blix has said it will take months for him to verify which side is right.