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Iran telegraphs superiority with missile barrage on Iraq

Special to World
Wednesday, April 25, 2001

NICOSIA — Iran has impressed Gulf neighbors with its missile attack against Iraq.

The Iranian firing of up to 66 Scud missiles at Iraq on April 18 surprised members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. GCC sources said the Iran fired more missiles in one attack than during the entire Iran-Iraq war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988.

GCC sources said the Iranian attack was a testament to the size and capability of the Iranian forces as well as its clear superiority over Iraq. The sources said the Iranian capability surprised both Iraq as well as the rest of the Gulf region.

Iran was able to deploy 17 Scud launchers at the same time, far higher than previous assessments. The Iranians fired 22 Scuds an hour while Iraq was able to fire only three to four such missiles a day during its eight-year war with Teheran.

The GCC sources said Iran has at least four times more the capability than had been assessed by Iraq and some of its Arab neighbors. They said Iran would never have fired that many missiles unless it had a huge reserve of short-range and medium-range Scuds. They said the result is that Iran is now capable of responding massively to any Iraqi attack.

"It seems that the Iraqi leadership was not seriously following the development of Iran's combat capability after the loss of military intelligence over the last decade," Wafik Al Samarai, the former Iraqi military intelligence chief, wrote in the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily.

Iraq has failed to respond to the Iranian missile attack. Instead, Baghdad complained to the United Nations of what Iraq termed was Teheran's violation of the ceasefire accord that ended the 1980-88 war.

Iran's missile capability has been bolstered by Russia, a development that has been encouraged by Iraq. Under U.S. pressure, however, the Russian Cabinet has approved arms export control measures to help curb the transfer of components and technologies that could develop ballistic missiles. The guidelines will not stop Russian sales of components and technology for the development of foreign civilian space programs. This includes current negotiations between Moscow and Baghdad to restore Iraq's satellite communications network.

A key question, the sources said, is Iran's capability in intermediate-range missiles. Iran's Shihab-3 missile is meant to have a range of 1,300 kilometers, able to hit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Pakistan.

The sources said they now have reason to doubt Western assessments that Iran's Shihab-3 program has been stymied by technical difficulties. For its part, the United States has remained mum over the Iranian attack. Senior U.S. officials have even refused to acknowledge the escalating tensions between Iran and Iraq.

"The escalating situation?" U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Edward Walker said on Friday. "Iraq had said there were Scuds. Well, this happens periodically. I don't know enough right now about the background and so on. I think there had been some attacks across the border both ways. So I prefer to let them comment on that."

In Teheran, Hizbullah and Hamas leaders have organized an international conference on the Palestinian mini-war against Israel. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opened the two-day conference on Tuesday.

"The Israeli regime is rotting on the inside and the new generation of Israelis is no longer motivated to defend it," Khamenei said. "First of all this regime must be isolated in the occupied territories, its political and economic lifelines severed, and then the armed resistance against Israel must be continued."

Lebanese Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said that the Palestinians should emulate Hizbullah in forcing Israel out of its territories. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon a year ago.

"We must chase down the enemy with an unrelenting resistance just as in Lebanon," Nasrallah said.

"The resistance is no longer a matter of choice, but our fate."

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

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