Iraq Sought Russian Arms Technology

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Probe Details Moscow Deal For Missile Equipment in ’94

By David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
October 18, 1998

MOSCOW—A delegation of top missile experts from Iraq went on a shopping trip to Russia in late 1994 and signed documents to acquire missile engines, technology and services despite the UN sanctions against Iraq and in violation of Russian export controls, according to results of a new investigation by Russian and American nonproliferation specialists.

The probe offers further evidence that Iraq carried out a clandestine effort to rearm after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and that Iraqi weapons builders turned to Russia’s hard-hit military-industrial complex as a source of hardware and know-how about weapons of mass destruction.

Most of the items apparently were never delivered for several reasons: An initial shipment of missile guidance systems was intercepted in Amman by Jordanian authorities; a key middleman was later arrested in Baghdad by Iraqi authorities; and Russian security services may have interrupted the planned deals.

But the probe raises new questions about whether high-ranking Russian officials gave a green light to Iraqi officials for the items’ procurement inside Russia. A Russian criminal investigation was closed without any charges being brought.

The new information comes from a joint investigation carried out by the Center for Policy Studies in Russia, a nonproliferation group here headed by Vladimir Orlov, and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, headed by William C. Potter, at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA. Their findings are being published soon in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and were made available in advance to The Washington Post. According to the authors, the new study is based on their own interviews and on Russian, US and UN documents.

Orlov’s group previously disclosed that the Iraqis used a Palestinian, Weaam Gharbiyeh, as a middleman to acquire more than 800 sophisticated gyroscopes for intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were shipped from Moscow in 1995. The sensitive devices, which keep missiles on target, had been removed from Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles being destroyed under arms control treaties.

In addition to the gyroscopes, it was earlier disclosed separately that Iraq signed an agreement to buy a 5,000-liter fermentation vessel from Russia that could be used for developing biological weapons.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied that they breached the UN sanctions by selling arms to Iraq. After Rolf Ekeus, who then headed the UN Special Commission in charge of investigating Iraq’s weapons programs, came to Moscow with detailed evidence in February 1996, officials acknowledged that the gyroscopes had come from Russia, but insisted the government had not given approval.

The new investigation broadens the picture of Iraq’s dealings in Russia. According to Orlov and Potter, Iraq was seeking parts and technology to build a new, more accurate, and possibly longer-range missile than it had possessed before. The Scud missiles that Iraq launched at Israel during the Gulf War are notoriously inaccurate.

The investigators said Gharbiyeh, the Palestinian middleman, was given his most lucrative offer in August 1994 from the Ibn Al Haythan Missile Center in Iraq. In a secret protocol to a contract for raw materials and electronic parts, they said, the missile center agreed to pay him $3.9 million if he could supply specific missile technology items, including precision guidance instruments.

That November, they said, Gharbiyeh brought a delegation of Iraqi missile specialists to Russia, from the Ibn Al Haythan center and from Karama, a large Iraqi aerospace and defense firm. In Russia, they met “very senior officials at Russian missile design and production facilities,” according to Orlov and Potter. The Iraqis met the Russians at their factory sites as well as outside.

According to the investigation, the Iraqis and Russians “signed literally dozens of protocols,” or letters of intent, for the purchase of “a wide array of missile goods, technology and services.”

“The Russians would supply missile engines, missile design, training, technology, manufacturing and testing for engines, airframes, and guidance and control systems,” they reported. The Iraqi accounts of the meetings show that the Russians were willing to provide “the most advanced technologies, and eager to work out specific offers as soon as possible, as long as payment was assured.”

The investigators said one of the letters of intent was signed with the Scientific Production Association Energomash, a huge Soviet and later Russian producer of rocket engines based in Moscow. The company agreed to provide “complete technology transfer,” they said, including production equipment for two types of liquid-fueled missile engines.

“Energomash agreed to provide a complete rocket engine of four-ton thrust as well as design calculations, final design, and five complete samples of a propulsion system for a ‘communications satellite’ whose size matched the payload specifications for an intermediate-range Scud-derived missile,” they said.

“The Russians also agreed to train the Iraqis in the design, production, and testing of modern rocket engines, and to enter into a project to jointly design a rocket engine,” the investigators reported. “Energomash officials assured the Iraqis that they could go ahead with these deals even without the approval of their government by paying bribes to the appropriate people.”

Energomash spokesman Viktor Sigayev denied that the company had contact with the Iraqis. “Categorically no,” he said. “There were not even any meetings.” He added, “The accusation is outrageous. It’s a very serious problem, and one cannot just publish rubbish.” Energomash has established a joint venture with Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp., to produce the Russian-designed RD-180 rocket engines that will be used to power Lockheed Martin Corp.’s space launch vehicles.

After the Iraqi officials’ visit, Orlov and Potter said, the middleman Gharbiyeh remained in Moscow completing the deals, and returned to Baghdad in early 1995 where “he drafted new contracts with his Iraqi sponsors based on the November protocols.” The contracts with the Karama company alone totaled more than $65 million, they said.

They also recount how Gharbiyeh returned to Russia to purchase the gyroscopes from a missile destruction factory in Sergiyev Posad, a town north of Moscow. According to the authors, he went so far as to have the gyroscopes tested and certified at a special facility in Moscow. He then arranged for the export out of Moscow’s lone international airport of 800 sensitive missile gyroscopes and accelerometers to Amman.

The gyroscopes were seized in November 1995 in Amman by Jordanian authorities acting on intelligence information from UN disarmament experts. The discovery of the gyroscopes was an early and significant indication that Iraq was attempting to acquire forbidden weapons during the UN disarmament inspections. Iraqi authorities later arrested Gharbiyeh in Baghdad after the defection to Jordan of Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who was later assassinated upon his return to Iraq. The reason for Gharbiyeh’s arrest is unclear, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Orlov and Potter said not all of the gyroscopes have been accounted for. The devices came from Russia’s SS-N-18 missiles. Of the 800 components that arrived in Amman, 240 were strategic missile gyroscopes and 240 were accelerometers. However, only 120 gyroscopes and 120 accelerometers were seized in Jordan, they said. An additional 33 gyroscopes and 26 accelerometers were pulled out of the Tigris River in Baghdad by UN arms inspectors on Dec. 9, 1995. That means about 180 gyroscopes and accelerometers — enough for 30 missile guidance systems — are unaccounted for, they said.

Orlov said many of the other missile items mentioned in the documents signed in Moscow were never delivered, because the plans were later interrupted by Russia’s security services, or by Gharbiyeh’s arrest in 1995.

The investigators again question — as Orlov had earlier — why the Russian criminal investigation of the case was narrow, focusing only on the gyroscopes, and not looking at Gharbiyeh’s other activity.

“Given the frequency of visits to Russia and the extensive nature of his contacts and contracts with the Russian defense establishment,” they concluded, “it is hard to imagine that the Russian authorities at some level were not aware of his activities” beyond the gyroscope deal.

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company.
Reprinted with permission.

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