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Iraq Rebuilds its Arsenal

Two years after U.N. weapon inspectors were forced out of Iraq, Baghdad is aggressively rebuilding its stockpile of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq recently launched a series of short-range ballistic missiles in tests to perfect a homegrown system that could be used to build missiles with longer-range capabilities.

The New York Times revealed on July 1 that Iraq has conducted eight test flights of the new Scud-like weapon, designed to reach just short of the range threshold permitted under U.N. resolutions limiting Baghdad’s military capabilities.

The military complexes and missile research centers where the missile, dubbed the al-Samoud, is under development were heavily bombed in December 1998 by allied aircraft during Operation Desert Fox. The Pentagon, at the time, believed that Saddam Hussein’s new missile activity was put out of commission for at least a year or two. In fact, the first launching of the missile came only six months later.

In spite of continuing technical problems with the weapon, it is likely that Iraq’s missile experts — given the absence of international monitors — are covertly using the program to develop a longer-range missile. U.S. and Israeli observers are concerned that the missile’s 95-mile range, which falls just short of the limit imposed by the U.N., could eventually be extended to threaten the entire region.

“We’re starting to see things up and functioning,” General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the newspaper. “What [Saddam] learns from these tests, the technological developments and the other things he picks up, are transferable to longer-range missiles.”

Richard Butler, the former director of the United Nations Special Commission that monitored Iraq’s weapons program after the Gulf war, said last week while in Israel that Iraq refused to provide his team of inspectors any information about its production of an engine that could stretch the al-Samoud’s range to 400 miles, thus putting Israel within reach.

Today, the al-Samoud is capable of hitting Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1990, but not Israel.

Butler, who testified before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Iraq is amassing chemical and biological weapons and warned that Baghdad could have nuclear weapons within a year of obtaining the needed raw materials.

“Evidence suggests that Saddam Hussein could be rebuilding his missile project both in the biological and the chemical spheres,” Butler said, charging that Iraq has 16 warheads loaded with anthrax.

Butler also revealed that Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz admitted to him that Iraq had developed its biological weapons “to deal with the Zionist entity.”

Source: Near East Report, (July 24, 2000)