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Russia Helping Iraq Upgrade Air Defenses

31 March 1999


Intelligence officials now admit that Serb and Iraqi defense officials have met and collaborated in recent months on anti-aircraft operations. Russia is now supplying sophisticated radar systems to Iraq. The possibility of a second front is increasing.


One of the critical issues in the Kosovo war is the intention and capabilities of Iraq. It must be remembered that many of the same nations that are currently engaged in the Kosovo air campaign are also, simultaneously, engaged in an air war in Iraq. As NATO intensifies the air war over Kosovo, the possibility of an intensification of the air war over Iraq poses an important strategic challenge by diverting aircraft and logistical support.

Recent reports emerging in the press tend to confirm Stratfor's long-standing view that Yugoslavia and Iraq collaborated in the run-up to the current conflict. According to the Associated Press, for example, U.S. intelligence now has evidence that Yugoslav technicians met with Iraqi specialists in Baghdad in February to help prepare Yugoslavia for an air war. Since both sides have similar equipment and are facing similar aircraft, the Yugoslav military quite rationally wanted to learn whatever lessons the Iraqis had to teach them.

It is obviously in the interest of both countries to cooperate strategically as well as technically. Anything that forces the United States to divide its scarce air campaign resources benefits both. Thus, a report from the IBC from Baghdad, claiming that Iraq is distributing advanced radar guidance systems for the SAM-6 surface-to-air missile system, is particularly significant. According to the report, Iraq is intensely engaged in upgrading its anti-air missile grid. Abed Hameed Hmoud, special secretary to Saddam and a member of the Presidential Council, is said to be personally supervising the installations of the systems at the Presidential Palaces, air bases and other critical installations. The article further states that both the Northern and Southern Corps of the Republican Guards are receiving new computing equipment and small, advanced Russian-made radar units as well as technicians.

If these reports are true, and we think that to be likely, the Russians are now engaged in a dramatic re-supply of equipment to the Iraqis. There have been numerous reports from sources in Russia about such a re-supply, and the IBC report is merely confirming the arrival and deployment of this equipment. The upgrading of the Iraqi air defense grid has the potential of posing serious problems for allied pilots on missions in Iraq, particularly if new systems have been distributed inside the no-fly zones where routine air patrols are carried out. We note, however, that we can find no evidence of any U.S. or allied air strikes in Iraq at this time. This indicates that both sides are lying low for the moment.

The new systems increase the ability of the Iraqis to engage U.S. and allied pilots on missions in this area. The standard U.S. response to such an engagement is first to target the radar and missile sites. By substantially increasing the number of such sites, Iraq is able to dictate a quickened tempo of allied air operations. Even if they lose some of their equipment, if the Russians have provided equipment in sufficient numbers to provide redundancy, Iraq will be able to dictate the level of allied operations. At a time when U.S. logistical capabilities required to support air operations will be heavily tilted toward Serbia, increased air operations over Iraq might pose a serious burden. If, on one hand, the U.S. declines to increase its air operations, it opens a window of opportunity for Saddam. If, on the other hand, the U.S. does increase air operations in Iraq, it could, over the long haul, degrade its logistical capabilities.

Two front wars are the traditional fear of any power. There is no question but that the U.S. can handle one intense and one low-grade air war. There is some question whether the U.S. has the supplies and transport systems needed to sustain two simultaneous high-intensity air campaigns. There is no doubt but that Saddam and Milosevic understand that they may have an opportunity to pose serious problems for the United States. Milosevic, of course, has done his part. Now the question is whether Saddam will up the ante.

It is not certain that there is any clear comprehensive warfighting agreement between Yugoslavia and Iraq, nor that if there were, the Iraqis would honor it. But there is a real window of opportunity available to Iraq and some indication that it is preparing to exploit it, with Russian help. When we factor in the unknown North Korean factor, we can see that there are some important reasons why the United States, in particular, will want to conclude the Kosovo air operation as quickly as possible.

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