Iraq moves missiles into no-fly zone

January 05, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Administration officials said last night that Iraq had moved surface-to-air-missiles into the enclave in the southern part of the country that is patrolled by U.S. and allied warplanes.

U.S. officials said they were not sure why Iraq had moved the weapons, described as Soviet-made SA-2 and SA-3 missiles, into the zone, from which Iraqi aircraft are barred by order of the United Nations Security Council. The council established the zone in August 1991 to protect rebellious Shiite Muslims active in Iraq's southern marshlands.

The movement of the missiles could mean that Iraq is anticipating a U.S. strike against its installations in response to its violations of the zone. But some U.S. officials are concerned that Iraq may be trying to shoot down a U.S. aircraft in reply to the downing of an Iraqi MiG last week. The United States said the MiG had trespassed into the prohibited area.

The movement of the missiles comes amid signs that Baghdad may still be intent on testing Western resolve to enforce the restrictions imposed on Iraqi after the Persian Gulf War.

After an U.S. F-16 shot down the Iraqi MiG-25 last week, the general view in the administration was that Iraq would shrink from further challenges to the United States and allied nations. But U.S. officials said Iraqi planes had continued to probe the edge of the zone, the 32nd parallel. According to one government official, there were three Iraqi incursions into the zone yesterday.

Even after the zone over southern Iraq was established, Baghdad kept some surface-to-air missiles in the area. Iraq was warned that activating the radars that guide the missile batteries or otherwise threatening the U.S., British, and French planes that patrol the zone would be considered a hostile act.

But in recent days, U.S. officials said, Iraq has taken two additional steps, moving more surface-to-air missiles south of the 32nd parallel and moving some of the missiles that were already in the south, a government official said.

The movement of the missiles is seen by U.S. experts as an attempt to confound U.S. intelligence, which has been monitoring the missiles in the south. A Pentagon official said that some of the southern missiles had been moved closer to the 32nd parallel in a possible effort to protect Iraqi planes that skirt the zone.

This official said the movement of the missiles was not in itself a violation of any restriction imposed by the allies. But he said that if the missiles were deemed by the United States to be a threat to its enforcement of the no-flight zone, it might take military action.

The Associated Press quoted a senior Pentagon official, who requested anonymity as saying, "This isn't a major deal" because the Iraqis do not appear to be using their radar to spot aircraft -- a preliminary step to firing on the aircraft.

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