War Stories

Scud Lite

Why is Saddam firing second-rate missiles at Kuwait?

In an earlier dispatch, I wondered why Saddam Hussein hasn’t fired his Scuds at Israel. The answer may be that he doesn’t have Scuds. The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reports today that the missiles Iraq fired at Kuwait were not Scuds but Frogs. Both are Russian-built, short-range artillery rockets, but the Frogs have a range of just 70 kilometers—less than half the range of Scuds, and not nearly enough to reach Israeli territory from any spot in Iraq. Frogs also can carry about half the payload of Scuds, and they tend to be even more wildly inaccurate (falling, on average, about one-third mile from their targets).

That still leaves one question: Whether they were Frogs or Scuds, why didn’t those missiles carry chemical warheads? Both types of missiles are certainly capable of doing so. During the Cold War, the Soviets had hundreds of nuclear-armed Frogs in Eastern Europe. The question is all the more intriguing because—as was frequently, and ominously, noted a few days ago—Saddam assigned Lt. Gen. Ali Hasan al-Majid (known as “Chemical Ali” for his brutal attacks on the Kurds in 1988) to command his armies in the south. Nothing can be said definitively. Saddam may be saving his worst stuff for the big battles to come outside Baghdad.  Maybe he doesn’t want to use the “weapons of mass destruction” that he’s said he doesn’t have unless he absolutely has to (though waiting to use chemically tipped missiles, if he has them, is a risk). But maybe he no longer has chemical munitions—at least not in a form that can be packed inside a missile.