Russia Signs Secret Deal To
Re-Arm Iraq's Air Defenses
LONDON (AP) - Russia has signed a $160 million deal to reinforce Iraq's air defenses and upgrade squadrons of MiG fighters, The Sunday Telegraph reported, quoting unidentified diplomatic sources in Moscow.
The London newspaper said the move was a serious threat to U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the "no-fly'' zones, scenes of almost daily confrontations with Iraq since December.
The agreements were signed in Moscow on Jan. 13 and 14 after a visit to the Russian capital by Ahmed Murtada Ahmed Khalil, Iraq's Transport and Communications Minister, The Sunday Telegraph said.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment. Russia's NTV television news reported that MiG officials said they "knew nothing'' about the reported deal.
The pro-conservative newspaper said the decision to give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein military help was approved by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov on Dec. 7 in violation of the United Nations arms embargo on Iraq.
Russia has consistently opposed military attacks on Iraq aimed at making Saddam comply with U.N. inspectors trying to determine if Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. It has also signed contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil industry, but the deals won't take effect until the sanctions are lifted.
The sanctions were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, sparking the Gulf War, and cannot be lifted until U.N. officials confirm Iraq's heavy weapons have been destroyed.
U.S. and British warplanes have prohibited Iraqi military flights over "no fly'' zones in northern and southern Iraq since shortly after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurdish rebel and Shiite Muslim groups.
Revealed: Russia's Secret Deal To Re-Arm Saddam
By Con Coughlin, Foreign Editor Operation Northern Watch - US European Command ISSUE 1360 Sunday 12-14-99
RUSSIA has signed arms deals worth more than $100 million with Saddam Hussein to reinforce Iraq's air defences. The move will pose a serious threat to British and American planes enforcing Iraq's no-fly zone. In a blatant breach of the UN arms embargo, the Russians have agreed to upgrade and overhaul Iraq's ageing squadrons of MiG jet-fighters and restore Iraq's air defences to combat readiness, diplomatic sources in Moscow have told The Telegraph.
The arms deals constitute a serious challenge to British and American attempts to force Baghdad to honour its commitment to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It will also strain Moscow's relations with Britain and the US at a time when President Boris Yeltsin is desperately seeking international assistance for Russia's beleaguered economy. British and American jets have been involved in almost daily military confrontations with Iraq since Operation Desert Fox, the air strikes unleashed against Saddam's military infrastructure by Britain and the US at the end of last year.
The Iraqi armed forces have so far failed to shoot down any Allied warplanes because they have to rely on out-dated and unreliable equipment. However, the Russian deal to upgrade Iraq's air force and anti-aircraft missile batteries will bring Iraq's air defences up to pre-Gulf war levels.
Apart from earning much-needed foreign currency, Russia's decision to provide Iraq with military assistance was approved by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in retaliation for Operation Desert Fox. Russia bitterly opposed launching air strikes against Iraq to punish Saddam for not co-operating with UN weapons inspectors.
The Foreign Office said yesterday that it had received reports of the arms deals, which were being investigated. Officials privately confirmed that the deals had been approved by Moscow. A senior Foreign Office official said: "It is almost beyond belief that a permanent member of the security council could authorise such a flagrant breach of the UN arms embargo. It indicates that Russian relations with Iraq have become a great deal closer since Mr Primakov became prime minister."
Officials expect Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, to raise the issue of Russia's arms sale to Baghdad when he embarks on his much-delayed trip to Moscow. Mr Cook was to fly to Russia in early March, but the trip was yesterday postponed because of his commitments to the current round of peace talks over Kosovo. Details of the arms deals between Moscow and Baghdad have also been passed to the State Department in Washington, where officials have already been alerted to be on the look-out for evidence of arms trading between Russia and Iraq. A spokesman said: "Any attempt by Russia to violate UN sanctions will be a matter of the deepest concern."
In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry refused to comment, while officials at Mapo-MiG, one of the beneficiaries of the arms trade, denied any knowledge of the deals. Ahmed Murtada Ahmed Khalil, the Iraqi Transport and Communications Minister, signed the arms deals in Moscow on January 13 and 14 after a visit to Russia by Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, in December, days before Operation Desert Fox was launched.
Additional reporting by David Wastell in Washington and Marcus Warren in Moscow