| A soldier from the 101st Airborne Division kisses an eagle at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, just before boarding a plane for operations in the Gulf region. (Reuters)
Baghdad, March 1 (Reuters): Iraq started destroying its banned al Samoud missiles today under the gaze of UN inspectors, complicating an American push to win international support to go to war against Baghdad for failing to disarm.
US preparations for war suffered a further setback — possibly temporary — when Turkey’s parliament first passed but then rejected a long-awaited motion allowing the deployment of 62,000 US troops in Turkey for a possible invasion of Iraq.
Four missiles with a range exceeding the 150-km limit set in UN resolutions were crushed under the supervision of UN inspectors today. “I can confirm now that four al Samoud missiles have been destroyed,” a UN spokesman said.
Iraq is thought to have produced around 100 al Samoud 2 missiles, deploying about 50 in military bases around Baghdad.
Iraqi compliance had been seen as crucial before Blix addresses the Security Council late next week — after which the US and Britain want to bring to a vote a draft resolution that lays the ground for war.
The move to start scrapping Iraq’s most advanced surface-to-surface missile was hailed as a “significant piece of real disarmament” by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, but was dismissed by Washington as part of a “game of deception”.
In Ankara, the parliamentary resolution, which would also have cleared the way for Turkey to send its troops to Iraq in any war, was narrowly rejected after hours of debate on an issue which has generated widespread opposition in Turkey.
The motion, approved by a simple majority but not the overall majority of MPs present, would have enabled the US to station troops in Turkey to establish a “northern front” which experts say would shorten any war.
Ankara fears the economic and political impact of any war in Iraq, but now risks losing massive US financial aid and any say in the future of northern Iraq, where it has key interests.
The government may try to put a similar motion to the assembly again and gather the few extra votes it needs.
The pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein came from an unexpected source today in the form of the United Arab Emirates, which became the first Arab state to call officially on him and his aides to go into exile.
Washington has said such a solution, proposed by the UAE at an Arab summit in Egypt, could spare the region another war. But Saddam said this week he would rather die than go into exile. Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Aldouri, asked on CNN today if it was likely Saddam would step down, replied: “No, not at all.”
Separately at the summit, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said member states opposed an attack on Iraq as a threat to Arab national security, and said their countries would not participate in any war. The mood in the region at street level was also strongly against US action.
In one of the biggest anti-war protests in West Asia, more than 300,000 Yemenis took to the streets denouncing the US, its main ally Britain and Israel as an “axis of evil” and urging Arab leaders to deny Washington help in a war.
In Turkey around 20,000 protesters took to the streets of Ankara urging parliament to reject Washington’s request to use the country as a launchpad for an attack. The Vatican, which does not believe an attack on Iraq could be considered a “just war”, said Pope John Paul would send a senior cardinal to Washington in the next few days on a personal peace mission.
Baghdad, which denies it has any weapons of mass destruction, had sent a letter on Thursday to Blix, saying it would obey his order to dismantle the banned ballistic missiles.
Hiro Ueki, the spokesman for the UN inspectors, said the destruction of the proscribed al-Samoud 2 missiles, components and related systems was taking place at the Taji military base, some 40 km north of Baghdad.
Uday al-Taei, a senior official of the Iraqi information ministry, said a “a timetable and action plan” had been agreed for the coming days.