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Why is Baghdad Airport still closed? U.S. Can't Locate Missiles Once Held in Iraq Arsenal


May 21, 2002
Good thing the people firing these missiles haven't been trained.

U.S. Can't Locate Missiles Once Held in Iraq Arsenal

Published: October 8, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 7 ? The United States military has been unable to locate a large number of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles that were part of the arsenal of Saddam Hussein, officials say, compounding the security risks for airports and airlines in Iraq and around the world.

The lack of accounting for the missiles ? officials say there could be hundreds ? is the primary reason the occupation authorities have not yet reopened the Baghdad International Airport to commercial traffic, officials said. The terminal has been rebuilt and the runways repaired, and Australian soldiers are running the air traffic control system.

But portable missiles were fired at incoming planes several times in recent weeks, one senior official said. Most of those incidents have not been reported to the public. The missiles missed their targets widely, suggesting that the people who fired them had not been extensively trained.

United States military officers do not know exactly how many of the missiles are unaccounted for, because they do not have precise estimates of how many Iraq once possessed.

"We just don't know," said an allied official, turning up his palms for emphasis.

The American military is pressing the search for the missiles, offering a reward of $500 for each one. The Pentagon has been surprised how many of the weapons, mostly Russian-designed SA-7's, Iraqis have turned in, another coalition official said.

Virtually every day, Iraqis are walking up to United States military posts to hand over portable missiles, and sometimes they have led Americans to small caches.

All together, 317 shoulder-fired missiles have been handed over to the military since May 1, according to unclassified United States military figures. The military has paid more than $100,000 in rewards, the figures show.

United States troops have also found several hundred shoulder-fired missiles, many in weapons dumps the locations of which remain secret, another allied official said.

But occupation officials remain concerned, because there is a vibrant international black market for the missiles in which an SA-7 can fetch as much as $5,000 ? far more than the United States military is offering.

The missiles are easy to smuggle, with a weight of 30 pounds or less and a length less than six feet, and Iraq's borders are highly porous at the moment.

In general, the operator of a shoulder-fired missile aims it at a low-flying plane or helicopter, then pulls a trigger, launching the projectile, which locks in on the heat emitted by the aircraft's engine. The United States and other advanced militaries have developed effective defenses like flares; their heat deceives the missile.

United States officials have discovered that Mr. Hussein's overall conventional military arsenal was much larger than American prewar estimates. The C.I.A. has estimated that the weapons dumps found so far in Iraq hold 600,000 tons of all kinds of ammunition and weapons.

The missiles believed to be available on the world black market include highly sophisticated American-made Stingers, nearly one thousand of which were given by the C.I.A. to the Islamic guerrillas who fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's.

In December 2000, two Stingers were found on a North Korean ship smuggling drugs into Japan, according to American officials. The ship was sunk by the Japanese coast guard in a shootout. United States Navy divers secretly took the Stingers off the ship. It was raised, the drugs were displayed and the boat was put in a museum ? all without public mention of the Stingers.

American officials said they had not been able to determine where the missiles were being sent.

Afghan-era Stingers are widely believed to be inoperable because of their age. But military experts say that while the Stinger's official military shelf life is seven years, with good maintenance and care they can be fired long after that.

In Bangkok, police and security officials said an intense search began last week for at least six shoulder-fired missiles after the police received information that the weapons had been smuggled into Thailand from Cambodia. Later this month 20 world leaders, including President Bush, are to fly into Bangkok for an economic summit conference.

In recent weeks at least two airlines have scrambled the times of their flights in and out of Bangkok's international airport after receiving intelligence reports from the United States that Al Qaeda operatives were planning missile attacks, diplomats and security officials there said.

Moderating security fears is the fact that the portable missiles cannot be fired effectively without training. American soldiers go through a seven-week course to qualify to use the missiles and then are required to requalify quarterly.

The SA-7 was developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1960's, and there are Chinese versions as well. It is the most widely available shoulder-fired missile.

Experts estimate that there are about 100,000 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles in existence globally. In the last 15 years, more than 50,000 have been sold to governments of developing countries, according to Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University in Canberra.

At least 30 insurgent and terrorist groups possess this kind of missile, Jane's Terrorism Intelligence Center reported in August.



Diamond Member
May 22, 2003
I think it would be impossible to locate all of the MANPADS in the entire country...not to mention the stuff that was probably smuggled in after the war.


Diamond Member
Nov 12, 1999
I can't understand why you are so alarmed BOBDN. Since we can't find these missiles, they obviously never existed.