Iraq to Start Destroying Missiles

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Iraq will begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles Saturday, Iraqi officials said Friday, despite doubts overshadowing Baghdad's promise to do so during the past few days.

Saturday is the deadline imposed by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.

But the United States dismissed the Iraqi decision and said President Bush won't settle for anything less than full disarmament.

"This is the deception the president predicted," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, calling Baghdad's promise "propaganda, wrapped in a lie, inside a falsehood."

"We do expect that they will destroy at least some of their missiles .... The Iraqi regime is a deception wrapped in a lie."

The agreement to destroy the weapons came despite Iraqi complaints about Blix's order, which says the missiles and all their components must be blown up, crushed, cut into pieces or otherwise destroyed. He issued the directive after finding the missiles exceed the 93-mile range limit imposed by the U.N. Security Council at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraq argues that 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. The sources in Baghdad told the Associated Press that Iraq would definitely comply by the Saturday deadline.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Blix told reporters Friday he had asked al-Saadi to clarify Iraq's stance. Still, he said the destruction of the missiles was "a very significant piece of real disarmament."

"They say they accepted in principle, and it is to start tomorrow, so maybe tomorrow evening or Sunday we will have more to say," he said.

U.N. inspectors now estimate Iraq has between 100 and 120 of the missiles, according to diplomatic sources.

Blix's top deputy, Demetrius Perricos, was in Baghdad on Friday to discuss "the pace of the destruction" with the Iraqis. He met with Iraq's chief liaison to the U.N. inspectors, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, on Friday evening and planned to meet with him again on Saturday to work out the details of the missile destruction.

The issue of the Al Samoud 2 missiles and whether Saddam destroys them will be key in determining Iraq's willingness to comply with the weapons inspections. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have threatened war if they decide Iraq has not complied.

Blair, speaking Friday at a news conference in Madrid, belittled the Iraqi concession. He said Saddam "never makes any concessions at all other than with the threat of force hanging over him."

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told Fox News that "any rational person" would know that such a promise by Saddam should only be taken at face value.

"I can't even believe we're having this debate on this question," he said. "I just can't believe we're playing into his hands this easily."

But European governments opposed to an imminent war said the Iraqi decision indicated that inspections were working. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Greece argued that the pledge to destroy the missiles showed that a stringent program of weapons inspections is the right way to disarm Iraq.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Iraqi compliance on the missile order was "an important step in the process of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. It confirms that inspectors are getting results."

Iraq, which has accused Blair and Bush of being set on war no matter what it does, prepared for battle.

Meanwhile, Iraqi troops moved into new positions around Saddam'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.

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 was prepared, if necessary, to veto the U.S. resolution to preserve "international stability."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.