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Soviets keep arms supplies at arms' length in Gulf war

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One long-term effect of the Iran-Iraq war may be to give the Soviets control over arms supplies to both combatants, a strategic affairs expert here warns. Col. Jonathan Alford, deputy director of London's prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says that this situation could come about if an Iranian weapons dependency on the Soviet Union were established.

Iraq has shown many signs recently of trying to diversify from its traditional East bloc arms sources. But Colonel Alford points out that "transforming an army's entire weapons system in the middle of a war is scarcely feasible." Iraq would therefore would seem to be locked into procurement from the Soviets for a number of years, "whether it wants to be or not," he surmised.

For the moment, the Soviets, like the United States, "each see powerful reasons why they should maintain some distance from the conflict," in terms of arms supplies, according to Colonel Alford.

Colonel Alford says he has no evidence that since the war started in September 1980, there have been substantial Soviet arms shipments to Iraq, which signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Moscow back in 1972. "There has been nothing like the massive airlift we saw going into Ethiopia in 1977," he said.

Such shipments as were reported being shipped from the Jordanian port of Aqaba in the early weeks of the war, he described merely as "a trickle of items that were probably already in the pipeline."

Iraqi opposition sources confirm that "No new arms shipments have been sent to Iraq by Soviets since the war began." Successive visits to Moscow of President Saddam Hussein's special envoy Tarek Aziz have failed to unblock the Soviet arms channel, they claim.

This has given the Iraqis added impetus to come to the West European arms market, as they have increasingly been reported doing over recent months.

Even before the Gulf war started, Saddam Hussein's pragmatism had led him to start seeking ways to dilute his arms dependence on Moscow. His commander showed a particular interest in French technology, which accorded with his own political inclinations toward the Paris of former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

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