- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

Iraq has boosted the range of some surface-to-air missiles as part of its ongoing efforts to shoot down patrolling U.S. and British warplanes, The Washington Times has learned.

Iraqi military forces in charge of air defenses recently were found to have added booster rockets to anti-aircraft missiles, in a makeshift effort to extend their range by several miles, defense and intelligence officials said.

Meanwhile, an advance party of U.N. technicians will reach Baghdad on Monday to pave the way for inspection teams that will search for weapons of mass destruction. It will be the first round of inspections since 1998.

A group headed by chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will arrive in Iraq for the first inspection in a week or so, U.N. spokesmen said.

U.S. officials continued warning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein yesterday that he must comply with the latest U.N. disarmament resolution.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disputed Iraq's latest claim that it does not have any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

"I'll simply say that they do have weapons of mass destruction, and the purpose of the U.N. resolution, of course, is for them to agree to allow inspectors in and to allow the inspectors to make some conclusions," Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon.

Noted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during a visit to Canada: "If the Iraqis do not comply, there will be consequences. Those consequences will involve use of military force to disarm them, to change the regime."

Regarding the missile activity, the Iraqis used booster rockets from two-stage Russian-made SA-2 missiles and attached them to SA-3 missiles in an effort to increase the latter's range, the officials said.

Iraq's SA-2 missiles have a maximum range of about 21 miles, and its SA-3s can hit targets up to 15 miles away. Both systems were first deployed in the late 1950s.

"Any time Iraq uses missiles against us or coalition forces, it's a concern," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He declined to comment on specific efforts by Iraq to increase surface-to-air missile (SAM) ranges.

A military official said intelligence on the SAM range increases was reported within the past several weeks. "There has been no assessment of how effective it has been," the official said. "But they are trying to get better range and [adding boosters] appears to have had that effect."

The extended-range missiles do not appear to be accurate and probably are being fired "ballistically" by the Iraqis without the full benefit of sensors and related guidance systems, the official said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. forces that patrol the skies over Iraq, declined to comment.

Iraq's air defenses continue to fire regularly at U.S. and British warplanes that are patrolling large areas of Iraqi territory over the northern and southern parts of the country.

Iraq has about 1,500 surface-to-air missile launchers, according to military specialist Anthony Cordesman.

It is not clear whether last week's U.N. resolution, which Iraq has said it accepts, will affect Baghdad's continuous efforts to shoot down patrolling jets.

The resolution states that Iraq cannot threaten or take hostile action against any U.N. representative or member state "taking action to uphold any Council resolutions."

"That could be a trigger" for U.S. action, if Iraq continues firing at patrolling jets, the military official said.

The patrols have been in place since the 1991 Persian Gulf war and are designed to prevent Iraq from attacking opposition forces in those parts of the country.

Since the end of the Gulf war, Iraq has been trying to improve its Soviet-era air-defense forces with new equipment acquired covertly from outside the country. All military equipment is embargoed under U.N. resolutions.

U.S. officials said a Chinese high-technology company provided Iraq with a fiber-optic communications system that was used to enhance the air-defense radar network. The fiber-optic system was bombed by U.S. aircraft last year.

Iraq also has converted commercial trucks imported under the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program for use as mobile anti-aircraft missile systems, which are more difficult to detect.

Any U.S. military operation against Iraq would begin with massive attacks on all elements of Iraq's air-defense system, which includes mobile and fixed missile sites, anti-aircraft artillery and a nationwide command-and-control system for targeting and attacking jets.

In addition to SA-2 and SA-3 missiles, Iraq also has mobile SA-6 missiles.

According to the private group Global Security.org, Iraqi air-defense systems have been improved in recent years. They have become "amalgams of Western, old East European and Far Eastern technologies that behave in nonstandard ways."

"That makes them less predictable for the U.S. and British planes that are their targets and increasingly difficult to counter," the group said in a report posted on its Web site.

U.S. and allied warplanes have been conducting attacks on Iraqi air-defense sites, both missile batteries and anti-aircraft artillery sites, on a weekly basis.

The last strikes occurred last week, when U.S. and allied jets bombed two surface-to-air missile sites near Tallil, southeast of Baghdad.

The raid was carried out after Iraq moved the two missile systems into an area that violated the air-exclusion zone over southern Iraq.

The U.S. Central Command stated Sunday that the missiles were "deemed a threat" to patrolling aircraft.

On Nov. 7, Iraq fired surface-to-air missiles and artillery guns at patrolling jets, prompting the bombing of an air-defense operations center and integrated air-defense site near Al Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Mr. Rumsfeld announced in September that military forces in Iraq several months earlier abandoned a policy of conducting limited strikes on attacking Iraqi air defenses in favor of bigger attacks on Iraq's overall air-defense network.

"We decided after a great deal of talk that it really didn't make an awful lot of sense to be flying patterns that we were getting shot at, if in response we were not doing any real damage that would make it worth putting our pilots at risk," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

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