Iraqi Rocket Launch Sparks Concern It is Developing Powerful Missiles

U.S. officials have expressed concern about Iraq’s successful launch into space last week of a three-stage rocket and its apparent development of a long-range missile capability.

The technological breakthrough, they fear, could erode Israel’s strategic edge over its Arab neighbors.

State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed the launch of “an Iraqi rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit.”

But U.S. officials would not comment on reports that Iraq has developed two surface-to-surface missiles, each with a range of 1,240 miles.

The Washington Post quoted Hussein Kamel, Iraq’s minister of industry and military industrialization, as making such a statement Dec. 7 on Baghdad state radio.

Iraq currently possesses a modified version of the Soviet-made SCUD short-range missile, which has a range of about 560 miles, the Post reported.

A State Department source said Iraq has been working to upgrade its SCUDs since the Iran-Iraq War, when they were deployed against Teheran, Iran’s capital, in the so-called “War of the Cities.”

“We know (the Iraqis) have been working on missile technology because they are using it,” the source said.

Another official said, “We have expressed our strong opposition to production of this capability from any source,” including Israel, which has developed a Jericho I ballistic missile and is reportedly testing a newer version, the Jericho II.

NO CHINESE SALE PLANNED

Israeli Embassy spokeswoman Ruth Yaron had no comment Monday when asked about Iraq’s new missile advances.

At the State Department, meanwhile, Boucher was asked Monday to comment on reports that China is planning to sell M-9 short-range missiles to Syria or other Middle Eastern countries.

Such a missile is capable of carrying nuclear or chemical weapons for a range of about 375 miles, which would for the first time allow Syria to threaten air bases in southern Israel, the Reuters news agency reported.

Boucher responded by saying that the United States was monitoring Chinese military sales. But he quoted a Chinese official as calling reports of a pending sale “groundless.”

“Except for the sale of a few missiles to Saudi Arabia, China has not sold and has no plan to sell any nuclear missiles to any country in the Middle East,” Boucher quoted the Chinese official as saying in remarks reported Sunday by China’s official news agency.

Last year, China sold CSS-2 intermediate-range missiles to Saudi Arabia. China told the United States that it would not sell that particular missile to anyone else.

However, it has not provided any assurances against sales of the M-9, Richard Clarke, assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, told Congress recently.

NEXT STORY