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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- U.S. Troops Uncover Banned Al-Sumud 2 Missiles

  • Ron Synovitz

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division advancing into Baghdad this week have discovered Iraqi missiles that violated the country's disarmament obligations. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz has examined some of the banned weapons and reports from Baghdad on how Saddam Hussein's regime appears to have deceived UN weapons inspectors.

Baghdad, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- At a cement factory and rock quarry on the northwest side of Baghdad, an Iraqi Al-Sumud 2 missile has been sitting on a launcher out in the open for at least several weeks -- covered only by a tarp -- but undetected by UN weapons inspectors.

Nearby, a second Al-Sumud 2 missile sits inside the long trailer of a gravel truck, also covered by a tarp.

The missiles were discovered by soldiers from the 1-15 Task Force of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division during a battle in Baghdad yesterday.

Under UN Security Council resolutions passed after the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was obliged to dismantle its nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-weapons programs. Iraq also was required to destroy all missiles with a range longer than 150 kilometers.

In February, the UN determined the Al-Sumud 2 missile exceeded that range and ordered Iraq to destroy them. Baghdad destroyed dozens of the missiles in the run-up to the war.

Task Force commander Lieutenant Colonel John Charlton told RFE/RL that his soldiers have found five other Al-Sumud 2 missiles in the past week -- all hidden within a grove of palm trees near the intersection of Highways 1 and 8 on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. Another U.S. battalion says it discovered 14 Al-Sumud 2 missiles during their rapid advance on Baghdad in the past week.

Neither of the Al-Sumuds discovered yesterday or any of the others found by the 1-15 Task Force were carrying any warheads. But Charlton also noted that none of the missiles carried registration tags from UNMOVIC, indicating they had escaped the attention of UN inspectors.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Baghdad, who saw the two Al-Sumud 2 missiles found in northwest Baghdad, said what was most striking was the way the missiles and their launcher had been disguised to blend in with the infrastructure of the cement factory.

The loaded missile launcher sits between two earthen embankments, making it impossible to see from buildings or roads near the factory. Meanwhile, the missile launcher was also placed near a rock-grinding machine that sits in the center of six conveyor belts that radiate outward and rise from the ground at 30-degree angles.

U.S. Captain Bill Young, one of the soldiers who discovered the missiles, noted that the angle and size of those conveyor belts is about the same angle and size as the missile launcher. Thus, he says, nothing would likely appear out of the ordinary in satellite photographs of the site.

The absence of tire tracks around both the launcher and the nearby cargo trailer with the second missile indicates that neither has been moved since the start of the war last month. Fresh tire tracks show the trailer truck's cab had been unhitched from the trailer recently and driven off.

U.S. Staff Sergeant Josh Schneiderman said that during yesterday's battle, he hurriedly looked under the tarp covering the trailer. At first, he said, he saw what he thought was a large tractor engine covered by a second tarp.

But after he and other U.S. infantrymen advanced around a berm in the quarry and found the missile on its launcher, they took a closer look in the truck trailer. They cut away the second tarp, revealing four fins on the fuselage of an Al-Sumud 2 missile.

As the 1-15 Task Force continued its advance into Baghdad yesterday, it also captured an Iraqi Republican Guard motor pool. After U.S. troops searched the office of the senior commander there and checked the site for boobytraps, RFE/RL's correspondent was allowed to look through some of the files in the commander's office. The commander's desk drawers contained catalogs that offered T-72 tanks and artillery for sale by the Slovak firms Unimpex, a subsidiary of the Martimex Group, and Dubnica nad Vahom Plus.

There also were specifications for rocket and aircraft gyroscopes from the Belgrade-based firm Teleoptik-Gyroscopes. Our correspondent's cursory search of the files revealed no receipts proving those firms had sold weaponry to Iraq.

In the same file folder, our correspondent also found a facsimile copy of research from the United States on the efficiency of depleted-uranium ammunition on armor. It appeared that several facsimile generations of this text had been made before it found its way into the hands of the Iraqi Republican Guards' motor-pool commander. But the copy in his desk drawer had a handwritten note in English on the cover page that was signed and dated: "From a friend, 2000."

That entire file was later taken by U.S. military intelligence officials. As with the Task Force's reports on the Al-Sumud 2 missiles, the information is being passed up the chain of command of the 3rd Infantry Division. If deemed significant enough, it will eventually find its way to the Pentagon.