NICOSIA, Cyprus — Iraq claimed Thursday that it has test-fired two long-range missiles and successfully launched a rocket able to carry satellites into space, developments that could affect the Middle East's military balance.
Hussein Kamel, minister of industry and military industrialization, said the three-stage rocket was launched Tuesday from the Al Anbar space research center 50 miles west of Baghdad.
Iraq is the only Arab country to claim the capability of launching satellites. Israel is the only Middle East country known to have satellite capability.
Israel launched the Ofek 1 satellite Sept. 19, 1988. The satellite was designed for scientific research, but Arab governments fear that it will be used as a spy satellite. Israel has said it is now working on an Ofek 2 satellite.
Kamel also claimed in a statement broadcast by state-run Baghdad Radio that Iraq has test-fired two surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 1,240 miles.
That is enough to reach Cairo to the west, Athens and Istanbul to the northwest, all of Iran to the east and the southern Soviet Union to the north.
Iraq's other main foes, Israel and Syria, are already within range of missiles reported in Iraq's armory.
If the Iraqi claims are true, the developments will heighten Soviet and U.S. fears of a new arms race in the Middle East.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he had heard reports that Iraq had developed an intercontinental ballistic missile but knew nothing about their validity.
Kamel gave no details of the surface-to-surface missiles and did not say when the test-firings occurred.
The heaviest missile the Iraqis are believed to have developed is the Hussain, with a range of about 560 miles.
There was no independent confirmation of Tuesday's reported rocket launch, but Iraqi TV showed what it said was footage of it.
Kamel said the rocket weighed 48 tons.
The U.S. Polaris nuclear missile weighs only 13 tons.
"It's a big leap," said Hans-Heino Kopietz, a Middle East analyst with London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The Iraqis are known to have been working on some big projects and we must assume this was one of them."
"What we must anticipate now, if this report proves to be correct, is how Iraq's neighbors will react."
Israeli officials refused comment and there was no immediate reaction from other Mideast capitals.
Kamel said the rocket will be used to launch a satellite for scientific research at an unspecified date.