Iraq faced a new test of its willingness to disarm after U.N. inspectors ordered Baghdad to start destroying dozens of missiles and their components by March 1.
U.S. officials said they were reviewing the four-page order that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix sent to the Iraqis late Friday. In the letter, Blix ordered Baghdad to destroy, under U.N. supervision, all of its Al Samoud 2 missiles and warheads, the missile engines for them, and a host of other components.
He also ordered Iraq to destroy the launchers, testing equipment, software and documentation associated with the Al Samoud program.
"The appropriate arrangements should be made so that the destruction process can commence by March 1, 2003," Blix wrote to Iraqi General Amer al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam.
Blix was specific in his letter, telling the Iraqis the destruction would be carried out through a variety of methods chosen by inspectors, including "explosive demolition, crushing, melting, and other physical and chemical methods."
Mohammed Modhaffar al-Adhami, a member of Iraq's parliament, said he believed Iraq would destroy the missiles if so ordered. "Iraq will do the maximum in its cooperation to avoid any aggression ... even (destroying) the missiles," al-Adhami told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the United States announced its forces in the Gulf region had surpassed 200,000. Pentagon officials have said US planning for a war with Iraq called for between 200,000 and 250,000 troops.
The announcement of force strength, by a Pentagon official who declined to be named, included 98,000 troops in Kuwait.
The United States now has some 210,000 troops spread across the US Central Command's operational theatre and in the Mediterranean, including 64,000 aboard US warships in the Gulf and the Mediterranean and 10,000 in Afghanistan, said the defense official. (Albawaba.com)
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