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Missile destruction to be completed within 2 weeks, Iraqi official says

AMMAN, Jordan—Iraq will complete the destruction of its Al Samoud 2 missiles within the next two weeks, Iraq's ambassador to Jordan said Wednesday, while the United Nations announced from Baghdad that nine more missiles had been destroyed.

The pronouncement by ambassador Sabah Yassin was the first indication from an Iraqi government official of when the destruction of the missiles will be complete. Twenty-eight of Iraq's 120 Al Samoud missiles have been destroyed since the process began Saturday, the United Nations said. The nine missiles were crushed by bulldozers, the United Nations reported—the same way others have been destroyed.

In an interview with Knight Ridder Newspapers, Yassin said the destruction shows his country is fully cooperating with the United Nations. He also cited U.N. interviews with Iraqi scientists without government supervision as a sign of Iraqi cooperation.

"We have totally collaborated with the U.N. inspectors," Yassin said. "It is a technical process, but we are committed to destroying the missiles."

Hans Blix, the United Nation's chief weapons inspector, ordered the destruction last week, saying the missiles' range exceeds that allowed by U.N. resolutions. Blix did not set a deadline for when all the missiles must be destroyed.

U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki in Baghdad also said U.N. inspectors had conducted a private interview with an Iraqi scientist Wednesday afternoon. He provided no further information.

Yassin said that he believes a report Blix is to make Friday to the Security Council will reflect Iraq's cooperation. The United States has dismissed the destruction of the missiles as merely a delaying tactic, an assertion Yassin denied.

He also said Arab countries that support the U.S. position against Iraq are opening a Pandora's box by "interfering" in Iraqi affairs, a reference to a proposal by the United Arab Emirates that Saddam Hussein step down to avoid war.

"It is dangerous to allow Americans to interfere with the internal affairs of our country," Yassin said. "They will interfere with other Arab countries next."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-MISSILES