BERLIN -- Newly released information shows that German firms played the key role in helping Iraq extend the range of its Scud rockets so that they can hit Israel.
The Institute for Customs Criminality in Cologne is only 10 days into its investigation of nine German trading companies, but evidence has already been released indicating that German firms provided the pumps and other propulsion elements that allow the Soviet-built Scuds to more than double their original range of 185 miles to 400 miles.
"Our suspicions have been greatly strengthened after having reviewed the material we impounded," Inspector Karl-Heinz Matthias said.
In the wake of the Scud attacks on Israel, there was a sudden flurry of activity that resulted in the seizure of 250 files from the companies. Although there are signs that help also came from France, Britain and Brazil, German firms helped in the tricky areas of propulsion and guidance over longer distances.
The German companies are believed to have bought components from domestic suppliers, which is legal, but then to have exported them to Iraq without approval of federal customs officials.
The companies under investigation -- mostly middle-sized ones such as Havert Ltd., Iwako Ltd. and Tramac Industrie, but also one of Germany's biggest, Thyssen -- deny supplying military components. All said they were supplying goods for civilian use.
Mr. Matthias, however, said that many of the diagrams found in the impounded material correspond to diagrams of the Scud propulsion system, especially valve, fuel injection and hydraulic pumping systems. Another company sold gyro-compasses, which it said were for oil exploration, but they also seem to have been built for military use, Mr. Matthias said.
"Exactly how much the [Scuds'] range was boosted by these companies' involvement is not yet certain, but they clearly modified the propulsion system to allow greater distance," Mr. Matthias said.
Most of the business occurred between 1987 and 1989, with the federal government being warned of the illegal trade in 1989, according to a confidential letter obtained by the German investigative television news show "Panorama."
The letter, which was written last August after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, said that the Federal Economics Agency had been informed a year earlier but had failed to take action. In one case, officials took the company's word that the pumps were for civilian use and even gave approval, according to the letter.
If the companies had worked much longer, they might have been able to modify the payload of the rockets to permit them to carry and discharge chemical or biological weapons instead of standard explosives.
The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the Iraqis only acquired technology to fill small weapons with poison gas, such as grenades. Plans existed to modify the Scuds, but hostilities prevented them from being drawn up or delivered, military experts quoted by the magazine said.