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Iraqi Army: World's 5th Largest but Full of Vital Weaknesses : Military: It will soon be even larger. But its senior staff is full of incompetents and only a third of its troops are experienced.

August 13, 1990|JOHN M. BRODER and DOUGLAS JEHL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

According to a U.S. official with access to intelligence reports on the attack, helicopter-borne Iraqi special forces flew ahead of the tank attack to capture Kuwait's international airport and clear its runways for transport planes that followed.

The operation, much like vanguard operations in the U.S. invasion of Panama, allowed armored vehicles and assault troops to roll onto the runway and then attack the emir's palace long before the main tank columns reached the capital.

Behind Iraq's vast military is a growing armaments industry producing everything from rifle bullets to ballistic missiles. U.S. intelligence agencies consider Iraq the world's largest producer of chemical weapons, and Iraq is known to have active programs to produce biological and nuclear weapons.

It has never used biological weapons in battle, and analysts believe that Iraq's nuclear program is at least five years away from producing an atomic bomb or missile warhead.

Carus cited as an example of the ambitious weapons programs Iraq has embarked upon with foreign assistance an undertaking known as Project 395, a $400-million program to produce solid-fuel surface-to-surface ballistic missiles.

With the help of West German and Austrian companies, Iraq has constructed state-of-the-art production facilities for the rocket propellant at Hillah, south of Baghdad, and to actually assemble the missiles at Falluja, west of the Iraqi capital.

The Iraqis are already producing a ground-to-ground missile with a 400-mile range known as the Husayn, a variant of the Soviet Scud rocket. They lobbed dozens of these inaccurate but terrifying missiles into Tehran in the late stages of their war with Iran during the so-called "War of the Cities."

In addition, the Iraqis are believed to have the best stocks of rocket artillery in the Third World. They are producing a rocket with a 35-mile range modeled on the Brazilian Astros 2, a copy of the Soviet Frog 7, and their own 55-mile-range Liath rocket that is reportedly capable of carrying a chemical warhead.

Working with Yugoslav technicians, the Iraqis are also building a 30-mile-range surface-to-surface rocket known as the Ababil, which is designed to carry a sophisticated cluster-bomb warhead co-developed with the Chileans, Carus said.

Other Iraqi munitions projects include infrared and television-guided bombs and laser-guided missiles. Baghdad is working on advanced naval mines and remote-piloted "drone" aircraft for battlefield surveillance.

They have also developed indigenous radar planes similar to the U.S. airborne warning and control system (AWACS) surveillance aircraft, although the planes are said to be of questionable quality.

Morale in Hussein's military appears to Western analysts to be high, for the moment. All agree that the seizure of Kuwait was skillfully carried out. But, said Cordesman, "The flush of excitement is always followed by some sober thought. As time drags on, the Iraqi army will be most vulnerable to thinking about the last war Saddam Hussein dragged them into, how much it cost, how many lives were lost, how much it cost their families."

Cordesman noted that most of Hussein's troops have spent their entire adult lives in war. "That has made them into an effective force but at the same time has created problems for Saddam (Hussein)," the analyst said. "He's most vulnerable if it becomes clear this is not a vast world conspiracy against Iraq but an effort to halt one man."

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