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Background Report Iraq Stocking Up on French Arms

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Iraq has ordered 24 additional Mirage F-1 fighter-bombers and has taken an option on France’s new combat plane, the Mirage-2000. According to official available figures, France has sold 64 F-Is to Iraq over the last two years.

The F-I is the French equivalent to America’s F-16. The planes sold to Iraq will be equipped with the new Matra super-530 air-to-air missile used for supersonic dogfights. The missile can hit a supersonic target at a distance of 18 miles. The Iraqi version can also carry a five-ton bomb load. The Iraqi Air Force also flies an unspecified number of MIG-23s equipped with Soviet-made air-to-air missiles.

In recent years, Iraq has tried to diversify its arms supplies and has bought large quantities of military equipment in France, including AMX-30 tanks, Panhard armored cars, anti-tank missiles and a variety of combat helicopters, including the heavily armed Super-Frelon. French reports say Iraq is also negotiating for the purchase of Crotale weapons systems, as well as in shore defense missiles.

A large number of Iraqi officers are studying of French shall schools or undergoing training at French air and naval installations.

GROWTH OF IRAQI AIR FORCE

NATO experts believe the Iraq Air Force to have more than doubled since the Yom Kippur War and that Iraq now has a highly credible strike force. These experts also believe that air crews are now well trained and highly operational according to Western standards.

Israeli military circles, including Chief of Staff Gen. Raphael Eitan, warned last week against the danger of Arab concentrations of modern forces on Israel’s eastern front. According to Western sources, Syria and Iraq now have a larger and more modern air force than all the Arab countries, including Egypt, had on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.

White France continues to sell arms, including modern supersonic planes, to a variety of nations, including practically all the Arab states, France officially denied last Friday the sale of uranium or other radioactive materials to Libya or Pakistan.

The president of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Michel Peoqueur, said Friday that both France and Niger, the African state where the uranium mines are located, have always acted in accordance with the non-proliferation treaty and the regulations of the (Vienna-based) international Atomic Energy Agency.”

American and British papers last month reported that large quantities of Niger-produced uranium have been sold, hijacked or misappropriated and have ended up in the construction of the “Islamic bomb” now manufactured in Pakistan with the help of Libyan money. The head of the French Atomic Energy Commission said “Not a single nugget of uranium yellow cake has found its way to Pakistan or Libya. There has been no theft nor any misappropriation of uranium.”

French sources recall that France last year cancelled its contract to supply Pakistan with a nuclear fuel processing plant after it became known that a nuclear device was being built near Islamabad. The French claim that the nuclear processing plant sold to Iraq “cannot be used” for military purposed.

ISRAEL EXPRESSES FEAR

Israeli sources are less convinced by these arguments and fear that the plants shipped to Iraq, Osirak 1 and 11, could be used for the production of enriched uranium of a military type. A year ago, in January, 1979, a bomb destroyed the care of the Osirak I plant as it was waiting at Seynesur-Mer for shipment to Iraq. French intelligence believe Israeli agents blew up the crates which have, however, since been replaced and shipped to Baghdad where they are in use.

France has not adhered to the non-proliferation treaty but has kept a low profile in this field, reportedly out of consideration for American sensitivity on this issue. Iraqi scientists are nonetheless working an French projects and French technicians are based in Baghdad where they participate in the construction of the Iraqi plants.

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