- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

U.S. intelligence agencies have identified new surface-to-air missile batteries near Nasariya in southern Iraq, and Iraqi military pilots are increasingly violating no-fly zones created by the United Nations, U.S. intelligence officials say.
The missile batteries are protecting an airfield and several underground bunkers near Nasariya that could be involved in the development of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, the officials say.
"These are threatening our pilots," said an official familiar with the deployment of several trucks equipped with SA-3 missiles and radar recently spotted inside the southern no-fly zone.
U.S. intelligence officials said the SAM deployments spotted in April appear to be part of a nationwide air-defense buildup by Iraq in preparation for an attack by U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, Iraqi MiGs recently conducted flights over southern Iraq in violation of a post-Persian Gulf war ban by the United Nations. The officials did not identify the type of MiG aircraft that were detected during the incursions. One official said the jets were either MiG-23 or MiG-25 fighters.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed the new deployments last month but declined to specify where the missiles were located. They included missile deployments in both northern and southern Iraq.
He also said he movements of air defense missiles inside the no-fly zones "increased the risk to the pilots that are patrolling in those zones, and that's what's been happening."
The new Iraqi military activities in the southern part of the country coincide with efforts by the United Nations to negotiate the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. A U.N. spokesman said last week that progress had been made on allowing weapons inspections to resume. The inspections were halted by Iraq in 1998.
Iraq is believed to have up to 25 SA-3 missile systems and 10 SA-6s, a more advanced air defense weapon. A fiber-optic communications network purchased from China was used to link the air defense weapons. The fiber-optic system was targeted during U.S. bombing strikes last year.
New air-defense missile movements were spotted in February near the Turkish border. Then, in April, more surface-to-air missile systems were photographed by U.S. reconnaissance equipment as they were moved to western Iraq.
The United Nations is close to completing work on new sanctions for Iraq. The new controls will make it easier for humanitarian goods to reach Iraq but will tighten restrictions on goods that could be used by the military.
Earlier this year, U.S. intelligence agencies discovered that trucks used for the U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food program, which allowed Baghdad to sell oil, were found to have been diverted for Iraqi missile launchers.
President Bush repeatedly has singled out Iraq for potential military action as part of his anti-terrorism strategy.
A spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command had no immediate comment on the deployments and no-fly zone violations.
Asked about the recent deployments of SA-3s in southern Iraq, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "sitting right on top of the point of his own bayonet."
"He can play games by ordering various assets here and there, and we shouldn't be playing his game," said the senior member of the House International Relations Committee, who last month led a nine-member delegation of congressmen and staff to Turkey, Afghanistan and Russia. "We should simply target him and not his assets."
Mr. Rohrabacher said U.S. pilots patrolling both northern and southern Iraq have dangerous rules-of-engagement restrictions. He said U.S. and British warplanes should be allowed to return fire on hostile forces, not just on the specific missile or anti-aircraft artillery site that originated the fire, as is allowed now.
"We have suggested that we should be ratcheting up the toughness of our policy toward Saddam Hussein, and the first step to say that if an American is pilot shot at, we can respond against any military target," Mr. Rohrabacher said.
Mr. Rohrabacher said the nine-member congressional delegation met with Iraqi resistance groups in London. Several of the group leaders complained the U.S. State Department had barred them from using some of the $100 million allocated by Congress for ousting Saddam from inside Iraq.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide