Russians Leave Baghdad; Iraq Destroys More Missiles

Hundreds of Russians left Baghdad on Thursday in anticipation of war, even as Iraq destroyed six more Al Samoud 2 missiles in an effort to prevent one.

An official at the Russian Embassy who wouldn't give his name said "as many as 600" Russian citizens were leaving on two charter flights Thursday. He hung up when pressed for details.

Russia's Foreign Ministry in Moscow has said the Emergency Situations Ministry would fly Russian workers and their families out of Iraq by Sunday, according to the Interfax news agency. It said the Russian Embassy will continue to operate.

Hundreds of Russians and Ukrainians have already returned home from Iraq over the past few weeks.

U.N. weapons inspectors returned to the Al-Taji military compound north of Baghdad to oversee the destruction of the banned missiles, which can fly farther than allowed under U.N. resolutions.

An official at Iraq's Information Ministry said six missiles were being crushed Thursday. That would bring the number of missiles destroyed since Saturday to 34, out of an estimated stock of about 100.

President Saddam Hussein called the missiles a "minor issue" and said Wednesday that the order to destroy them was a ploy to demoralize the Iraqi people before an American attack.

"Why do they focus on this detail?" he told a group of army commanders. "Because they think that such minor issues will affect your morale."

Inspectors also were seen Thursday at al-Aziziya, a former helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it unilaterally destroyed 157 R-400 bombs armed with biological weapons in 1991.

The inspectors have been overseeing excavations of the buried bombs, and taking samples of the liquid sloshing around inside some of them to see if it includes -- as Iraq claims -- anthrax, aflatoxin and botulin toxin.

At the same site, Iraq has opened a pit where it says it dumped stocks of anthrax and VX, along with neutralizing agents, at the same time. Iraq has asked inspectors to analyze soil samples to verify their destruction.

Iraq is preparing a letter to the inspectors suggesting methods they could use to quantify the samples, but inspectors are skeptical.

"If you pour some milk into the ground 10 years ago, then analyze the soil ... it might not be so easy to see whether it was one liter or two liters or 100 liters," chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Wednesday in New York.

Inspectors also visited two missile engine factories, a military engineering firm and a gas company in northern Iraq on Thursday, Iraq's Information Ministry said. Inspectors do not comment on their day's activities until evening.

Blix said the Iraqis have been cooperating more on several issues in recent weeks, and that "there are greater efforts being made."

"They have spontaneously gone at them," he said.

"Whatever capability (Iraq) has, it's smaller than before, and it is very closely guarded," he added.

But the United States -- which is leading the drive for war -- has been skeptical of changes in Iraq's position and is pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing war.

Russia, France and Germany said Wednesday they would block any U.N. authorization for military action. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said Thursday there is no need for such a resolution and said weapons inspections "should be strengthened."

But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Iraq's "too-little, too-late gestures are meant not just to deceive and delay action by the international community" but also to create divisions among the nations of the world.

"That effort must fail. It must fail because none of us wants to live in a world where facts are defeated by deceit, where the words of the Security Council mean nothing, where Saddam and the likes of Saddam are emboldened to acquire and wield weapons of mass destruction."

The United States has about 230,000 troops in the region, a number expected to grow to nearly 300,000 within a few weeks.