US embassy cable - 88BAGHDAD2571 (original version)

IRAQ KEEPS THREATENING TO SEND MISSILES (original version)

Identifier: 88BAGHDAD2571
Wikileaks: View 88BAGHDAD2571 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Baghdad
Created: 1988-05-09 13:08:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL MOPS KPAL IZ
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
O 091308Z MAY 88
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7086
INFO GULF WAR COLLECTIVE 0329
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL 0148
DIA WASHDC 0101
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 02571 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PREL, MOPS, KPAL, IZ 
SUBJECT:  IRAQ KEEPS THREATENING TO SEND MISSILES 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL -  ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  EVERY DAY THE IRAQIS TURN OUT MILITARY 
COMMUNIQUES THREATENING "SEVERE PUNISHMENT" AGAINST 
IRAN FOR CONTINUING TO SHELL IRAQI BORDER TOWNS (TYPI- 
CALLY ONLY DARBANDIKHAN, WHICH TODAY SCARCELY FITS THE 
DEFINITION OFIA CIVILIAN TARGET).  WITH NEARLY THREE 
WEEKS ELAPSING SINCE THE END OF THE MISSILE WAR, IT 
SEEMS MORE AND MORE LIKELY THAT THE IRAQIS INTEND TO 
DO NO MORE THAN KEEP THE IRANIANS AWARE THAT THEIR 
"FINGER IS ON THE TRIGGER" SHOULD THE IRANIANS TRY 
ANYTHING BIG, ALTHOUGH THE VALUE OF THE IRAQI WARNINGS 
IS GROWING INCREASINGLY HOLLOW.  END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  THERE HAS BEEN NO RELENTING YET IN THE STRIDENCY 
OF IRAQI WARNINGS THAT IF THE IRANIANS DO NOT DESIST 
IN SHELLING BORDER CITIES AND "VIOLATING THE CONDI- 
IONS STIPULATED FOR THE HALT OF IRANIAN CITIES," 
IRAQ WILL METE OUT "SEVERE PUNISHMENT" (CLEAR REFER- 
ENCE TO RESUMPTION OF USE OF MISSILES).  THE ODD THING 
LS THAT IN THE PAST WEEK THE IRAQI MEDIA HAVE MENTION- 
ED ONLY TWO SUCH "BORDER CITIES"--DARBANDIKHAN (NEAR 
HALABJA) EVERY DY, AND ON ONE OCCASION ABUL-KHASIB 
(NEAR BASRA).  BOTH ARE ABANDONED AND BOTH SIT 
ASTRIDE IMPORTANT HIGHWAYS CLOSE TO IRANIAN LINES 
THAT ARE OBVIOUS TARGETS FOR IRANIAN ARTILLERY. 
(INDEED, IT IS ESSENTIAL FROM A MILITARY STANDPOINT 
FOR IRAN TO TRY TO INTERDICT MOVEMENT ALONG BOTH 
HIGHWAYS.) 
 
4.  FOR THEIR PART, THE IRAQIS STRUCK THE SHIRAZ 
REFINERY AND PETROCHEMICAL COMPLEX ON MAY 4.  THE 
SUBSEQUENT MILITARY COMMUNIQUE MADE IT CLEAR THAT 
THEY INTEND TO CONTINUE HITTING SUCH ECONOMIC TARGETS 
FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR. 
 
5.  OF PARTICULAR NOTE, AS WE OBSERVE FROM FBIS 
REPORTAGE OF IRANIAN BROADCASTS, IS THE FERVOR WITH 
WHICH THE IRANIANS DENY STRIKING ANY CIVILIAN 
TARGETS IN IRAQ--INCLUDING DENYING ANY SHELLING 
OF DARBANDIKHAN.  OUR AUSTRALIAN COLLEAGUES TELL US 
THAT TEHRAN IS JUST BEGINNING TO COME BACK TO LIFE 
FULLY.  THEIR EMBASSY IN TEHRAN ASSESSES THAT THE 
IRANIANS ARE EXTREMELY KEEN TO PREVENT A RESUMPTION 
OF THE MISSILE EXCHANGE--UNTIL, THAT IS, IRAN FEELS 
ON A TECHNOLOGICAL PAR WITH IRAQ AND CAN DELIVER 
JUST AS STRONG BLOWS AGAINST BAGHDAD AS THE IRAQIS 
CAN AGAINST TEHRAN.  FOR THEIR PART, THE IRAQIS 
HAVE ALSO BEEN KEEN TO DENY IRANIAN CLAIMS OF 
IRAQI STRIKES ON IRANIAN BORDER AREAS. 
 
6.  MEANWHILE, IRAQ CONTINUES OFFICIALLY TO BUBBLE 
OVER WITH PLEASURE AT THE VICTORY AT FAO AND THE 
MIGHTINESS OF THE HUSSEIN MISSILE, NOW FOLLOWED BY 
THE ABBAS MISSILE OF A CLAIMED EVEN LONGER STRIKING 
POWER.  SADDAM HUSSEIN HAS MADE NO FEWER THAN FOUR 
VISITS TO AN EXHIBITION OF THE MILITARY INDUSTRY 
COMMISSION, AND ON MAY 5 HE BESTOWED ON THE COMMIS- 
SION'S DIRECTOR--HIS SON-IN-LAW AND COUSIN HUSAYN 
KAMIL (JUST PROMOTED FROM COLONEL TO BRIGADIER)-- 
AND SEVERAL OF ITS STAFF "RAFIDAIN MEDALS FOR 
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE."  IN VIRTUALLY EVERY HIGH- 
LEVEL MILITARY MEETING SADDAM NOW HAS, HUSAYN KAMIL 
IS PHOTOGRAPHED AT HIS SIDE, ALONG WITH HIS BROTHER- 
IN-LAW AND COUSIN DEFENSE MINISTER ADNAN KHAYRALLAH. 
THE BIG NEWS IN THE PRESS MAY 8 WAS THE OFFICIAL 
DELIVERY BY PARTY NUMBER-TWO IZZAT IBRAHIM TO SADDAM 
OF HIS LATEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT, A MINIATURE OF THE 
HUSSEIN MISSILE FROM THE PEOPLE OF SALAH AL DIN 
(TIKRIT) PROVINCE.  THE BIG NEWS ON MAY 9 WAS 
SADDAM'S PRESIDING OVER DISCUSSION OF FINAL DESIGNS 
FOR A MONUMENT TO BE ERECTED AT THE BILAT AL-SHUHADA 
SCHOOL, DESTROYED BY AN IRANIAN MISSILE OCTOBER 13, 
AND HIS REVIEWING A HALL FULL OF BIRTHDAY PRESENTS 
"GIVEN TO HIM BY THE IRAQI PEOPLE SHOWING THEIR JOY." 
 
7.  SADDAM'S MAY 1 INTERVIEW WITH AN EGYPTIAN 
JOURNALIST SANA AL-SA'ID, WAS FINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 6 
(SEE FBIS JNO70944).  SADDAM TYPICALLY PREFERS ARAB 
TO NON-ARAB JOURNALISTS, PARTLY OUT OF NATIONALISM 
AND PARTLY BECAUSE THEY TEND TO ASK LESS DELICATE 
QUESTIONS.  SANA AL-SA'ID DID TRY A FEW INTERESTING 
QUESTIONS, BUT SADDAM DOGGEDLY DODGED THEM.  SHE 
TRIED TO GET HIM TO SAY SOMETHING PROVOCATIVE ABOUT 
HOW FAO IS A HARBINGER OF ARAB VICTORY OVER JERUSALEM, 
BUT HE MEALY-MOUTHED ABOUT LACK OF ARAB UNITY AND 
PROBLEMS WITH WORLD OPINION.  SHE TRIED TO GET HIM 
TO CASTIGATE OMAN, QATAR, AND THE EMIRATES, BUT HE 
DID NOT BITE.  SHE INSINUATED SUPERPOWER UNHELP- 
FULNESS, BUT THERE WERE NO WORDS OF CRITICISM 
FOR THE SOVIET UNION, AND HE EXCUSED U.S. NAVAL 
PRESENCE IN THE GULF AS BEING LONGSTANDING AND, 
IN ANY CASE, SOMETHING FOR WHICH IRAN IS ENTIRELY 
TO BLAME.  HE REFUSED TO BLAME THE PLO FOR RAP- 
PROCHEMENT WITH SYRIA.  HE LIED EFFUSIVELY ABOUT 
HOW THE IRAQIS NOW RELY ON THEMSELVES FOR MOST 
WEAPONS, INCLUDING THE HUSSEIN MISSILE, ALTHOUGH 
HE DID CONTRADICTORILY ADMIT THAT "PURCHASES OF 
SOVIET ARMS ARE STILL BIG." 
 
8.  ARAFAT, WHO ARRIVED IN BAGHDAD FROM DAMASCUS ON 
APRIL 26, IS STILL IN TOWN, GETTING PUBLICITY FOR 
HIS PROMINENCE IN SADDAM'S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS AND 
IN MEETINGS WITH SADDAM ON APRIL 27 AND MAY 7.  BE- 
TWEEN THESE DATES THERE WERE MEETINGS OF THE PLO 
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND THE HIGHER COMMITTEE FOR 
OCCUPIED LAND AFFAIRS.  PLO STATEMENTS AS PUBLISHED 
IN THE BAGHPAD PRESS ARE MAINLY DEVOTED TO PRAISE OF 
THE VICTORY AT FAO "LEADING TO VICTORY IN JERUSALEM." 
 
9.  SAUDI ARABIA'S RUPTURE OF RELATIONS WITH IRAN 
HAS BEEN A MAJOR SOURCE OF PRAISE AMONG EDITORIALISTS, 
WITH A STRONG UNDERCURRENT THEME THAT OTHER ARAB 
STATES MUST FOLLOW SUIT.  DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TAHA 
YASIN RAMADAN, CARRYING SADDAM'S LETTER OF PRAISE 
FOR SAUDI ARABIA'S TOUGH STAND AGAINST IRAN, MET 
KING FAHD IN RIYADH MAY 6 AND MADE HIS SECOND UMRA 
TO MECCA IN LESS THAN THREE WEEKS. 
 
10.  COMMENT:  IN THE SHORT TERM, THERE IS HOPE FOR 
A CONTINUED LULL IN THE MISSILE WAR.  WHILE THE 
IRAQIS GREATLY RELISHED THE DISRUPTION IN TEHRAN, 
THEY ARE RESTRAINED BY COUNTERVAILING FACTORS. 
BAGHDAD WAS ALSO DISRUPTED, EVEN IF TO A MUCH RE- 
DUCED DEGREE THAN TEHRAN; BAGHDADIS WERE BEGINNING 
TO BE VERY MUCH ON EDGE.  THE IRAQIS MAY HAVE 
WORRIED ABOUT SUPPLY PROBLEMS; NO MATTER WHICH 
REPORT ONE BELIEVES, IRAQ'S SUPPLY OF MISSILES IS 
NOT LIMITLESS.  PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT, THE 
IRAQIS MAY HAVE--OR SHOULD HAVE, BY ANY LOGIC-- 
CALCULATED THAT MISSILES ARE MORE EFFECTIVE AS A 
DETERRENT IF NOT OVERUSED.  NOW THE IRANIANS 
PAINFULLY KNOW WHAT THE IRAQIS CAN DO, AND TEHRAN 
IS BEING REPOPULATED; HENCEFORTH, THE IRANIANS 
WILL HAVE TO CALCULATE CAREFULLY ABOUT THEIR 
ATTACKS ON THE GROUND OR WITH MISSILES. 
 
11.  IN THE LONGER RUN, THE PICTURE MAY NOT BE 
SO HOPEFUL.  WE ARE IN A REGIONAL ARMS RACE, AND 
IF THE IRANIANS ARE ABLE TO CATCH UP, A DEADLIER 
MISSILE WAR MAY ULTIMATELY BE IN THE OFFING. IN 
THIS RACE, THE IRANIANS HAVE A DISTINCT ADVANTAGE 
OVER THE IRAQIS, NAMELY,  THAT BAGHDAD AND OTHER 
IRAQI POPULATION CENTERS LIE FOUR OR FIVE TIMES 
NEARER THE BORDER THAN DO MOST IRANIAN CITIES. 
THE IRANIANS THEREFORE ONLY NEED SMALLER MISSILES 
WHICH MAY BE SUSCEPTIBLE TO SPEEDIER PRODUCTION 
IN GREATER QUANTITY, OR IN THE CASE OF MISSILES OF 
SIMILAR SIZE AND PROPELLENT, THEY ARE ABLE TO 
PACK IN MUCH MORE EXPLOSIVES.  EITHER PROSPECT 
SHOULD GIVE THE IRAQIS PAUSE, AS THEY CONGRATULATE 
THEMSELVES ON THEIR NEW MISSILES. 
 
NEWTON 

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