TEL AVIV (Sep. 17)
Iraq has dramatically enhanced its chemical warfare capability in the last few weeks since its invasion of Kuwait, according to a report Monday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
Ze’ev Schiff, the newspaper’s well-respected military correspondent, cited U.S. defense sources as saying that Iraq is now able to outfit its ground-to-ground missiles with chemical warheads.
That development, if true, may force the United States to expand its objectives in the Persian Gulf crisis, Schiff said.
Until now, the primary U.S. goals have been the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restoration of its legitimate government.
But according to Schiff, it is now clear that one of the unstated objectives of U.S. policy makers is to eliminate Iraq’s non-conventional weapons’ development capability.
According to Schiff’s sources, the Iraqis did not possess chemical warheads for their missiles when the Persian Gulf crisis began with their invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2
But as soon as the United States began to mass its forces in Saudi Arabia and the danger of a military confrontation loomed, the Iraqis undertook a crash program to produce chemical warheads that could be delivered by missiles, the sources said.
U.S. experts were quoted as saying this is not a technological breakthrough, since the Syrians had succeeded in developing chemical warheads for their missiles some time ago. What is different is that they have now produced and apparently stockpiled them.
According to reports, the warheads are stored in simple containers, making their handling extremely dangerous and thereby increasing the chances of an accident during launching.
The assessment is that the Iraqis have not developed a binary gas, in which two benign gases can safely be stored and later combined to produce a lethal mixture.
It is not clear how many missiles the Iraqis have or where they are located, but they seem to be making efforts to produce more.
Experts say the Iraqis have no experience launching missiles with chemical warheads. During their war with Iran, they used conventional warheads with a range of a few hundred miles.
As the range increases, their accuracy decreases.
Schiff says the Iraqis appear, however, to have made significant progress in the development of biological weapons and are further advanced in that area than the West believed before the Gulf crisis.