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UNSCOM Head Says Iraq Has 'Operational' Missile Force
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Howard Diamond

IRAQ HAS MANAGED to retain an operational force of ballistic missiles in violation of UN prohibitions against possessing such weapons with ranges above 150 kilometers, according to Rolf Ekeus, head of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOM has long suspected Iraq of possessing missile capabilities beyond those permitted under UN Security Council Resolution 687. Ekeus' assessment, offered during a January 29 luncheon speech sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, indicates that Baghdad may have an operational force of between 18 and 25 Scud or Scud variant missiles.

"Every piece of what is necessary to constitute an operation[sic] force is available in Iraq," Ekeus said, including transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles, rocket fuel and "an organization to operate these missiles." The missiles, whose range of up to 650 kilometers would allow Iraq to reach targets in Israel and Iran, are of particular concern because of Iraq's past use of ballistic missiles against neighboring countries and the missiles' potential to deliver weapons of mass destruction. According to Ekeus, Iraq has used a variety of deceptive methods used to hide the missiles and related equipment.

During the past several months, Ekeus said Baghdad has become increasingly uncooperative in response to UNSCOM's ongoing effort to establish a "material balance" of Iraq's past ballistic missile programs. In November 1996, Iraq refused to permit UNSCOM to take 150 destroyed rocket engines, which Baghdad claims it destroyed and buried in the summer of 1991, to the United States for metallurgical analysis by a Department of Defense laboratory. UNSCOM inspectors want to confirm whether the engine metal matches that of the old Soviet produced rocket motors, because it believes Iraq destroyed inferior, indigenously produced engines instead of operational Soviet produced motors.

Under Resolution 687, Iraq is permitted to possess ballistic missiles with ranges under 150 kilometers, but the Gulf War cease fire resolution mandates destruction of Iraq's longer range Scud and Scud variant missiles. In April 1991, Iraq gave 48 missiles to UNSCOM for destruction and claimed to have destoyed and buried 85 others without UNSCOM supervision. While the sites identified by Iraq did appear to hold the declared number of destroyed missiles, further investigation by UNSCOM showed that Iraq had, in some cases, simply transferred "buried" missiles from one site to another so they would be double counted. UNSCOM also found that some of the sites did not actually contain operational missiles systems, but training missiles. Iraq is also believed to have removed and stored critical missile components, such as turbo pumps, which they are unable to produce domestically.

Iraq's refusal to comply with the UN resolutions persists even in the face of economic sanctions, which have cost Iraq more than $100 billion in lost oil revenue. Ekeus claims that Iraqi obstruction of UNSCOM's mission has gotten worse as Baghdad perceives Security Council support for UNSCOM to be waning. As a case in point, Ekeus cited Security Council inaction after the Iraqi refusal to allow analysis of the destroyed rocket motors. Instead of approving a resolution demanding Iraqi compliance, the Security Council issued a statement that "deplores" Iraq's non cooperation, and notes "that such action complicates the implementation by the Special Commission of its mandate." The result, according to Ekeus, is that UNSCOM is now facing "serious obstructions" by Iraq for simple document requests and for the removal from the country of chemical munitions for analysis.

Posted: January 1, 1997