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Iraq Received Military Assistance from Balkans - 2003-04-01


The war in Iraq pits state-of-the-art Western technology against less advanced Iraqi weapons. Iraq has tried to bridge the military imbalance by acquiring more sophisticated system. Baghdad has been getting help from the Balkans.

International investigators say Iraq got at least $1.5 billion worth of illegal armaments from the former Yugoslavia that could be utilized in the current war.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based independent organization that investigates potential world trouble spots, says former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic defied U.N. sanctions to sell arms to Iraq, and that the sales continued after he was ousted in 2000.

Among the items sold to Iraq, the Crisis Group says, were anti-aircraft munitions, artillery shells, and propulsion and guidance systems for Scud rockets. Yugoslav technicians also refurbished MIG fighter jet engines.

James Lyon of the International Crisis Group's Belgrade office says Iraq even acquired technology to make a kind of crude Cruise missile. "We also know they were selling rather sophisticated remotely piloted vehicle technology that would have enabled them to transform some of the jet trainer aircraft they had into essentially poor man's Cruise missiles that could be piloted from a distance, without expensive guidance systems," says Mr. Lyon.

Mr. Lyon says there was also anti-aircraft technology used against NATO aircraft during the Kosovo campaign, which now appears to be employed by Iraqi air defenses. There is also some question, say Crisis Group investigators, about whether chemical weapons stockpiles or technology went from the former Yugoslavia to Iraq.

The transfers of sophisticated arms were greased by old-fashioned corruption. Crisis Group officials say much of the money from the transfers was diverted from Yugoimport, the state-owned arms export agency, into the pockets of top officials in Belgrade. Nicholas White, head of the Crisis Group's European office, says there was a close relationship between the government, the military and organized crime. "To come to power, the post-Milosevic regime had to do deals with the military establishment in order to secure the removal of Milosevic," he says. "And so, basically, the same people kept on raking in the proceeds, and, indeed, I think possibly diverted some of them on to members of the new government."

Officials of the former Yugoslavia also reportedly sold arms to Liberia, and attempted to hawk them to Burma, as well, both countries under U.N. sanctions. Mr. White points out that, when confronted about the matter, the officials claimed they did not know the countries were under sanctions.

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