France denies selling advanced systems to Iraq

Friday, April 18, 2003

LONDON France has denied selling Iraq advanced anti-aircraft systems.

The denial comes as the U.S. military reported that a new Roland surface-to-air missile system was found in Iraq. The Franco-German system found in Iraq was said to have been produced last year.

French officials said Paris has maintained an arms embargo on Iraq since 1990. Officials, however, have acknowledged that France exported the Roland-1 and Roland-2 anti-aircraft systems in 1990, Middle East Newsline reported.

"France applied in a strict fashion the arms embargo," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said in a briefing. "We confirm, in particular, that no export to Iraq of Roland missiles, or spare parts, took place after 1990."

U.S. officials said coalition forces have found large amounts of French military equipment in Iraq. They cited shipments of new spare parts for Mirage fighter-jets and Gazelle attack helicopters. The French equipment was said to have been shipped to the United Arab Emirates port of Dubai and then transported overland to Iraq.

France has also been accused of exporting elements required for the production of rocket propellant for Iraqi missiles. The components were said to have been exported to France from China. In turn, France exported the rocket propellant components to Syria, and from there they were transported to Iraq.

Iraq received a shipment of 100 Roland-1 and -2 anti-aircraft systems in 1981. The Roland is a self-propelled medium surface-to-air missile with a range of 6.3 kilometers.

France and Russia were said to have been the biggest suppliers to Iraq's military. The two countries were said to have comprised 80 percent of Iraq's weapons purchases, including advanced tactical communications, rocket-propelled grenade and night-vision systems.

Coalition forces were said to have found 51 Roland-2 missiles at military installations near Baghdad International Airport. The United States said a Roland missile downed a U.S. A-10 ground-support aircraft last week. Rivasseau has dismissed the U.S. claim, first reported in Newsweek magazine, that a Roland-2 system produced last year was exported to Iraq. He said production of the Roland-2 ended in 1993.

France has also produced and exported the Roland-3 and Newsweek said a Roland-3 launcher was also found in Iraq. Rivasseau said the Roland-3 was never exported to Iraq and said coalition forces might have confused this with the earlier model Roland-2.

Rivasseau said France is prepared to cooperate in any investigation of French military equipment, particularly the Roland-3, found in Iraq. He suggested that Iraq might have been assembling new missile systems from a range of French spare parts.

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