Baghdad Increases Range of Surface-to-Air Missiles; U.S. Patrol Planesin Region targeted.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Iraq has boosted the range of some surface-to-air missiles as part of its ongoing efforts to shoot down patrolling U.S. and British warplanes, The Washington Times has learned.

Iraqi military forces in charge of air defenses recently were found to have added booster rockets to anti-aircraft missiles, in a makeshift effort to extend their range by several miles, defense and intelligence officials said.

Meanwhile, an advance party of U.N. technicians will reach Baghdad on Monday to pave the way for inspection teams that will search for weapons of mass destruction. It will be the first round of inspections since 1998.

A group headed by chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will arrive in Iraq for the first inspection in a week or so, U.N. spokesmen said.

U.S. officials continued warning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein yesterday that he must comply with the latest U.N. disarmament resolution.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disputed Iraq's latest claim that it does not have any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

"I'll simply say that they do have weapons of mass destruction, and the purpose of the U.N. resolution, of course, is for them to agree to allow inspectors in and to allow the inspectors to make some conclusions," Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon.

Noted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during a visit to Canada: "If the Iraqis do not comply, there will be consequences. Those consequences will involve use of military force to disarm them, to change the regime."

Regarding the missile activity, the Iraqis used booster rockets from two-stage Russian-made SA-2 missiles and attached them to SA-3 missiles in an effort to increase the latter's range, the officials said.

Iraq's SA-2 missiles have a maximum range of about 21 miles, and its SA-3s can hit targets up to 15 miles away. Both systems were first deployed in the late 1950s.

"Any time Iraq uses missiles against us or coalition forces, it's a concern," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He declined to comment on specific efforts by Iraq to increase surface-to-air missile (SAM) ranges.

A military official said intelligence on the SAM range increases was reported within the past several weeks. "There has been no assessment of how effective it has been," the official said. "But they are trying to get better range and [adding boosters] appears to have had that effect."

The extended-range missiles do not appear to be accurate and probably are being fired "ballistically" by the Iraqis without the full benefit of sensors and related guidance systems, the official said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of U.S. forces that patrol the skies over Iraq, declined to comment.

Iraq's air defenses continue to fire regularly at U.S. and British warplanes that are patrolling large areas of Iraqi territory over the northern and southern parts of the country.

Iraq has about 1,500 surface-to-air missile launchers, according to military specialist Anthony Cordesman.

It is not clear whether last week's U.N. resolution, which Iraq has said it accepts, will affect Baghdad's continuous efforts to shoot down patrolling jets. …