#13 - JRL 7218
April 2, 2003
U.S. bristles at Russian role in covert Iraq aid
By Alex Rodriguez, Tribune foreign correspondent.
When the Bush administration learned that electronic jamming equipment, anti-tank weapons and night-vision goggles had found their way from Russia into the hands of Iraqi forces, it was furious but far from surprised.
Russian military companies and black marketeers have deftly snaked past United Nations sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime for years, providing Baghdad everything from spare parts for Iraq's Soviet-era tanks and helicopters to gyroscopes for long-range missiles.
Underscoring the breadth of the illegal trafficking, German intelligence agents discovered in 2001 that Iraq had set up a military intelligence bureau in Russia to facilitate arms bargaining, according to a report published by the U.S. General Accounting Office.
In the past, Washington preferred to use behind-the-scenes diplomacy to stanch the flow of military equipment from Russia to Iraq. That was the tack Bush administration aides took in August, when they learned that Russian companies were allowing Iraq to buy such items as jamming devices that can disrupt the guidance systems of U.S. missiles.
Now a war is under way. And when the U.S. officials learned that Iraqi troops were using the devices with on-the-ground assistance from the manufacturer's experts, Washington vented its anger publicly.
"We got progressively more frustrated that the Russian side was not investigating these cases seriously enough," said a senior U.S. diplomat. "The dialogue had run aground."
Since the 1990 imposition of UN sanctions barring sales of military equipment to Iraq, Moscow has paid little heed to complaints that link Russian military companies with Baghdad, via conduits such as Syria, Ukraine and Belarus.
In 1995, Russia agreed to sell Iraq fermentation equipment that UN inspectors warned could be used to develop biological weapons. Russia denied any involvement.
That same year, authorities in Jordan intercepted 30 crates of 115 Russian-made gyroscopes removed from long-range missiles and being shipped from Russia to Karama, Iraq's missile development center, according to 1997 congressional testimony from the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.
Russia at first denied involvement but then told the State Department that it could not determine who made the shipment.
Publicly, Moscow has always hailed its commitment to the spirit of the sanctions. It did so again after Washington made public its accusations about the electronic jamming devices, as well as Russian military industry deals to send Iraq night-vision goggles and Kornet anti-tank missiles capable of piercing thick tank armor.
Illegal arms sales to Iraq usually are masked by fake end-user certificates that indicate a shipment is destined for Syria or Belarus, when in fact it is headed directly to Iraq.