Iraq’s Missile Program Profile

By the time the first Gulf War began, Iraq had already proved its missile prowess. In the 1980’s, Iraq had fought and won a major conflict with Iran in which Iraqi missiles proved to be a major factor. Iraq had also secretly loaded missile warheads with chemical and biological payloads and was even attempting to top a missile with a nuclear warhead. This brief essay describes Iraq’s purchase of SCUD-type missiles from the Soviet Union, Iraq’s efforts to extend their range, Iraq’s drive to develop a more advanced solid-fuel missile with the help of Argentina and Egypt, and Iraq’s program after the first Gulf War to keep its missile activity going.

Historical Development through the First Gulf War

Foreign Origins

Iraq’s missile efforts began in earnest when it imported SCUD-type missiles from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. After the first Gulf War, Iraq admitted to UN inspectors it had purchased 819 SCUDs from the Soviet Union, starting in1974. These were the liquid-fueled SCUD-B, as well as 11 mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs). The SCUD-B had a maximum range of 300km and a payload of approximately 770kg. UNSCOM has expressed satisfaction that it has accounted for 817 of the 819 Soviet missiles that Iraq imported.

Al Hussein

In its war with Iran in the 1980s, Iraq quickly found itself at a disadvantage. Iran’s SCUD Bs could hit Baghdad but Iraq’s SCUDs couldn’t reach Tehran, which lay much farther from their common border. Either Iraq needed to buy longer-range missiles or needed to build them at home. According to UN inspectors, Iraq began to reverse-engineer SCUD Bs in 1987 (Project 144). Iraq began to produce a modification known as the Al Hussein that could fly 650 km, far enough to reach Tehran.

The Al Hussein apparently had the same guidance system as the SCUD B, which made it less accurate when flown to a longer range (the radius of accuracy was between 1.6 km and 3.2 km). Its payload, estimated to be about 500 kg, was smaller than the SCUD B’s. The fact that the missile could be launched from an eight-wheeled TEL vehicle gave it sufficient mobility allowed it to evade US planes, which were unable to destroy a single operational SCUD missile during the first Gulf War.

Iraq was able to buy missile components from a number of Western countries. Most of what Iraq needed to extend the range of its SCUDs came from Germany. The West German firm Inwako sold DM38 million worth of parts and machinery. Another West German firm, Thyssen, contracted to supply 305 turbopumps especially designed for installation in SCUD rocket engines, and shipped at least 35 before German Customs officials intervened. Iraq also received assistance from Austrian firms, Brazilian firms, British firms, and even US firms. Eighteen months after Iran fired the first SCUD missiles at Baghdad, Iraq announced that it had developed a new missile that could fly 615 km.

Iraq is believed to have fired 516 SCUD-type missiles at Iran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The first Al Hussein was reportedly fired at Tehran on February 29, 1988. The destructiveness and terrifying threat of these missiles helped persuade Iran to cease its missile attacks on Iraqi cities.

W. Seth Carus, a noted authority on Iraq at the National Defense University, reported on the behavior of Iraqi missiles in two seminal articles in May and June 1990. According to Carus, Iranian missile experts were able to recover relatively intact Al Hussein fuselages, which allowed a study of the design and construction of the missile. The Iranians reported that the Al Husseins fired at them in March and April 1988 were extensively modified versions of the Soviet SCUD B. The modifications increased the amount of propellant from about 4 tons to just over 5 tons. This was achieved by cutting the oxidizer and fuel tanks in half and adding additional sections to the existing tanks. The oxidizers were lengthened by 85cm and the fuel tanks by 45 cm, thereby allowing 1040 kilograms of propellant to be added. Iranian missile specialists speculated that the additional sections were taken from the fuel and oxidizer tanks of other SCUD B missiles. In effect, Iraq cannibalized three SCUD Bs to produce two Al Husseins.

The payload of the Al Hussein was reduced to compensate in part for the increase in weight created by the additional fuel and larger body. According to Carus, the amount of explosive material was reduced from 800 kilograms to only 190 kilograms. The increased burn time of the rocket from the extra fuel, combined with the lighter payload, made it possible to extend the range from 280 km to 600 km.

After its success in modifying the imported SCUDs, Iraq undertook to produce its own Al Husseins. According to former UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler, Iraq was able to import the necessary components, production equipment and tools. Mr. Butler told the Security Council that in early 1990, Iraq established a production goal of 200 missiles, and intended to eventually produce 1000. In 1995, Iraq declared that it had conducted four flight tests of the missiles with indigenously manufactured engines (under Project 1728) five years earlier. Iraq also declared that it had successfully manufactured an entire missile airframe, warhead and launcher by the time of those tests. Iraq was not, however, able to produce gyroscopes for missile guidance, or turbopumps for the motors. Iraq did have contracts to buy gyroscopes, and retained some imported gyroscopes until the last quarter of 1995. Despite all these admissions, Iraq still claimed that by January 1991 it had failed to produce a single operational missile.

UNSCOM-supervised Destruction of Iraqi SCUD-type missiles

Before the first Gulf War, Iraq prepared at least 25 Al Hussein missile warheads with chemical agent for offensive use in a surprise attack mode. According to former UN inspector David Kay, the missiles were authorized to be launched if Baghdad were attacked with nuclear weapons. Iraq maintained that 80 special warheads for Al Hussein missiles were produced: 50 for chemical weapons, 25 for biological weapons, and 5 for chemical weapons trials, though its declarations changed several times. UNSCOM also received evidence of the probable existence of a number of additional special warheads. Iraq never accounted for the 25 biological warheads or for up to 50 conventional warheads.

Other SCUD Variants

Iraq’s attempts to extend the range of its SCUDs did not stop with the Al Hussein. In April 1988, Iraq successfully test-fired an upgraded version of the Al Hussein known as the Al-Abbas. This missile was designed to have a maximum range of 950 km, thus extending the reach of Iraqi missiles to most of the Middle East. The Al Abbas was reported to have a payload of 300 to 450 kg, and the US Defense Department stated that the Iraqis had successfully placed chemical and biological warheads on it. The Pentagon judged that the missile was designed primarily as a delivery vehicle for targets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

There were also reports that the Al Abbas was unstable in flight, could fly only 800 km, and was accurate only within an estimated 500 meters. The Al Abbas is not known to have been used during the Iran-Iraq War or the first Gulf War. According to the Defense Department, the program was abandoned in the research and development phase.

Iraq also tried to extend the range of its SCUDs by strapping them together. It conceived the Al Abid space launcher as a three stage rocket. The first stage consisted of five clustered SCUD-type airframes, and had a 70 ton thrust, according to Hussein Kamal, then head of Iraq’s Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization. The second stage was a single SCUD-type rocket, and the third stage was a smaller rocket of unknown origin.

On 7 December 1989, the Iraqis surprised the world by announcing a 5 December flight test of the Al-Abid. Western intelligence agencies were taken completely unawares. There is no evidence, however, that separation of the first stage ever took place, or that the second stage motor ignited. In fact, the upper two stages appear to have been dummies. The main objective of the launch was to test the control vanes on the first stage rocket engines. The rocket flew straight up and then dropped back to the earth. Iraq’s successful clustering of rocket motors was nevertheless a technical achievement.

In December 1989, Iraq formally announced the development of a longer-range Tammuz I ballistic missile just after the test of the Al Abid. According to the Pentagon, the Tammuz I was to consist of a SCUD as the first stage and a second stage derived from the Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile. Iraqi officials claimed that the Tammuz would have a range of 2,000 km. No known tests of the Tammuz ever occurred.

Iraq also tried to convert a Soviet surface-to-air missile, the Volga/SA2, to a surface-to-surface application. Two “Fahad” missiles were conceived, one with a range of 300km, the other closer to 500 km. Iraq declared to UN inspectors that it had conducted 21 flight tests of the Fahad missiles before the first Gulf War, although this was not verified. In July 1991, UNSCOM supervised the destruction of nine of these missiles, which were intended to fly more than 150 kilometers. According to the US Defense Department, the 300 km version was abandoned in the research and development stage. In the Pentagon’s opinion, the 500 km version, although displayed at the 1989 Baghdad Arms Exposition, never reached the design stage and was little more than a mock-up for a disinformation campaign.

Condor II/BADR 2000

At the same time it was seeking liquid-fuel SCUD technology, Iraq was trying to develop a more potent, solid-fueled missile known as the Condor II. This project (called the BADR 2000 in Iraq) was carried out in concert with Egypt and Argentina. The two-stage Iraqi Condor II, meant to be a derivative of the US Pershing II, was intended to carry a payload of approximately 350 kg to a range of 1,000 km (though UNSCOM estimates its range would have been 620-750 km). The first contract that Iraq signed was for a solid-fueled first stage and a liquid-fueled second stage. Iraq was reported to favor, however, solid fuel in both stages. Iraq concentrated its efforts at the Belat Al Shuhada factory.

The origin of the project was in Argentina, which had already developed a single-stage, solid-fuel missile called the Condor by the early 1980s. The plan was to develop this missile further in Argentina and then pass the technology and design on to Egypt and Iraq. Egypt promised to help procure additional technology and Iraq was to provide the financing. Procurement efforts were aimed at a number of Western armament and aerospace companies, primarily in Germany and Italy. Technical support was handled by a consortium of sixteen European companies under the name Consen based in Switzerland.

In 1985, Iraq began to build what it would need to produce solid propellant rocket motors and test them in Iraq. This effort was known as Project 395. According to press reports, Iraq spent at least $400 million to build production plants, and by early 1989 had received a plant to manufacture the chemicals needed for solid fuel rocket motors, a factory to produce components and assemble the missiles, and a rocket test stand.

Because of disputes, the collaboration with Argentina and Egypt ended in late 1988, after which Iraq tried to complete the project alone by dealing directly with the supplier companies and relying on its own capabilities. Iraq was able to buy additional materials and equipment in 1989 and 1990. After the first Gulf War, Iraq declared to UN inspectors that it never completed the production or integration facilities needed for the missile, nor was it able to manufacture any complete missiles. Iraq also denied receiving any operational missiles from abroad. UNSCOM was able to verify these assertions.

Iraq also attempted to import solid-fuel technology from Germany and Italy through Egypt for a 120 km-range rocket called the FK120 (or Sakr 200). Although Egypt canceled the deal when the suppliers would not provide production capability, Egypt may have learned enough to pass along design information to Iraq. UN inspectors discovered buildings that Iraq claimed were constructed for this project, but no equipment had been installed before the buildings were bombed in 1991.


Iraq also sought other means of extending its military reach. The “Supergun” program was an effort to produce 350 mm and 1000 mm long-range artillery weapons as an alternative to missiles. UN inspectors found and destroyed one partially-assembled gun at Jabal Hamryn (Hamrain), north of Baghdad. This gun was a prototype for a larger, longer-range gun capable of firing 1,000 mm/40-inch shells 600 miles or more. Parts of the 1,000 mm gun were found at Iskandariah. When completed, the Supergun would have been capable of delivering chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. This project, known as Operation Babylon, was carried out with the utmost secrecy. It was originally planned for the gun to be housed in a crater with a retractable roof.

Site of 350 mm Supergun, Jabal Hamrayn

The Supergun was designed and constructed by Gerald Bull, a French Canadian whose Space Research Corporation was located in Brussels, Belgium. Bull was acknowledged internationally to be an expert in ballistic technology, and had worked with several countries before selling his design to Iraq. At one point, Bull employed 20 persons who were working solely on the Supergun. Bull’s company handled the contracting for the gun components with UK companies. Bull’s involvement in the Supergun project ultimately led to his assassination outside his flat in Brussels on 22 March 1990, allegedly at the hands of Israel’s Mossad. Shortly after his death, eight British-made steel pipes, probably part of the gun barrel, were seized by British Customs on their way to Iraq. Other Supergun components were soon discovered throughout Europe, including the breach-block in Italy and recoil mechanisms in West Germany and Switzerland.

Post Gulf-War Missile Development

The arrival of UN weapon inspectors after the first Gulf War cut short Iraq’s long-range missile programs. Under UN Resolution 687, Iraq was prohibited from possessing or developing any missile with a range beyond 150 km. Iraq responded by investing its resources in efforts to build missiles within the permitted range. According to one former UNSCOM inspector, key Iraqi personnel who worked on missile development before the first Gulf War contined to direct the development of Iraq’s permitted missile projects during the lead up to the second Gulf War. And according to the US Defense Department, many of the permitted production technologies were compatible with SCUD production. These technologies were clearly intended to support follow-on systems with longer ranges.

Short-Range Missiles

After the first Gulf War, Iraq continued to develop both liquid-fuel and solid-fuel technology for short-range missiles. The liquid-fuel program produced a missile known as the Al Samoud, which used the engine of the Soviet SA-2 (or “Volga”) surface-to-air missile. According to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the successor to UNSCOM that was created in 1999, the Al Samoud has an inherent potential to exceed the 150 km range restriction imposed under UNSCR 687. The CIA estimates that the Al-Samoud, as designed, had a potential operational range of about 180 kilometers.

Iraq’s first test flight of the Al Samoud occurred under UNSCOM supervision in 1997, and tests continued in 1998. When UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, the Al Samoud had experienced some success and a good deal of failure, causing inspectors to estimate that it was still some 3 years away from a product design. In June 2000 the Al Samoud was reported to have been flight tested for the eighth time.

Iraq’s solid-fuel efforts were directed at a rocket called the “Al Ababil” (also known as the “Ababil-100”) which was designed to have a range of 130 to 140km. According to one former UN inspector, the Al Ababil “looks like a BADR 2000 Junior.” The Ababil does not appear to have been flight tested.

Long-Range Missile Work

Prior to the second Gulf War, it seemed highly unlikely that Iraq had abandoned its quest for long-range missiles. Iraq had reportedly conducted computer design studies for missiles with proscribed ranges (including IRBM and ICBM missiles), and it had tried to buy components for such missiles, including the 1995 purchase of 120 gyroscopes and accelerometers for long-range missiles from a Russian firm.

According to UN inspectors, available evidence indicated that around August 1991, Iraq started a secret project to construct a surface-to-surface missile called the “J-1,” and did so without notifying UNSCOM, as required by UN Security Council resolutions. The liquid-fueled J-1 was based on the Volga/SA-2 surface-to-air missile with certain modifications of the engine and the guidance and control system. No aspect of the J-1 program (design, manufacture, flight-testing) was admitted to UNSCOM until late 1995 – two years after Iraq claimed that the project was aborted. According to Iraq’s declarations, prototypes of the J-1 missile were built and six flight tests were conducted from January to April 1993. Iraq claimed that the J-1 had never been intended to reach proscribed ranges, and stated that the longest range achieved during the tests in 1993 was 134 kilometers. UNSCOM inspectors believed that the system was capable of reaching proscribed ranges. Iraq claimed to have halted the project in May 1993.

Iraq masked the J-1 work by telling UNSCOM that the work was being done on the permitted Ababil-100 missile, which Iraq had declared. The masking was made easier by the fact that the J-1 and the Ababil-100 had some specifications in common. Iraq admitted later that it had intended to hide the “covert” J-1 project within “open” work at declared missile sites.

A second long-range missile based on the Volga missile was the subject of a meeting between Iraqi Lt. General Hussein Kamil and senior Iraqi missile engineers in May 1993. Notes taken at the meeting, and found later by UN inspectors, indicated that among the issues discussed were a turbo pump to feed four Volga/SA2 missile engine combustion chambers and the design of an engine for a “larger missile.” UNSCOM concluded that a single-stage missile with four engines of this type would have a range in excess of the permitted limit of 150 kilometers. Iraq admitted that it had started working on the turbo pump at the beginning of 1995. Iraq tried to obtain assistance from abroad, but claimed that the effort achieved no tangible results.

At the end of 1994 the Iraqi government also ordered the design of a multi-stage space launch vehicle capable of placing a small satellite into low orbit. Such a rocket system would be capable of carrying weapon payloads far beyond the permitted range. According to Iraq’s declarations, its missile establishments started a feasibility study. Several designs based on Volga/SA2 were simulated. The report on this study was prepared in February 1995 and concluded that the idea was not feasible given the capabilities available to Iraq. Iraq claimed the project was stopped shortly thereafter. This project was declared to the UN Special Commission in August 1995. Simulations of the system’s trajectory, some minutes of meetings and a portion of the final report were provided by Iraq as supporting evidence. The project’s chief engineer admitted he knew that clustering and stage separation techniques were proscribed under UN Resolution 715 (1991).

Iraq’s illicit long-range missile effort also included work on variants of the proscribed SCUD missile. In January 1996, during an on-site inspection of a missile facility, an inspection team discovered computer files with a missile simulation program. The files contained evidence that a flight simulation of a three-stage missile had been executed as early as July 1992. The simulated missile was based on the proscribed SCUD-B. Iraq described the simulation as the effort of an unidentified engineer working on his own. The inspection team later determined that the input/output data, as well as the simulation program itself, had been copied to floppy diskettes in September 1992. Forensic examination also revealed that the diskettes obtained by the team were part of a larger collection of computer disks that were not found by the team nor provided by Iraq. Iraqi interference with the team’s analysis of the acquired diskettes prevented the inspectors from creating a clear picture of the nature and implications of the proscribed activities they had discovered.

Iraq’s Missiles

Maximum Range (km)Payload (kg)DiameterPropulsionStatus
Pre-Gulf War
Scud-B300Approx. 770Approx. .9mLiquidUsed extensively; 2 unaccounted for in Iraq, as well as 25 biological and 50 conventional warheads
Al Hussein650up to 500Approx. .9mLiquidUsed extensively; 7 unaccounted for in Iraq
Al Abbas800 (Designed to reach 950)300 - 450Approx. .9mLiquidAbandoned in R&D phase
Condor II/ BADR-2000Approx. 1,000350.8mOriginal version intended to have solid first stage, liquid second; second version intended to have both stages solidNo complete missiles ever manufactured or procured
FK120/ Sakr 200120Undetermined.56mSolidProduction plants not complete, equipment not installed by the time of the first Gulf War
Fahad (Al Fahd)300 version 190600mm booster and 500mm sustainerLiquid21 flight tests claimed, but unverified; 300 version abandoned in R&D phase; 500 version abandoned; 9 missiles destroyed under UNSCOM supervision in July 1991
500 version
Al Abid(Space Launch Vehicle)Unknown5 boosters of .9m each in 1st stage; a single .9m 2nd stageLiquidTested 12/5/89; stage failed to separate
Tammuz I2,000 (claimed by Iraq)200 (claimed by Iraq)UnknownLiquidAbandoned in design stage, no evidence anything more than a "paper missile"
Post-Gulf War
Al Samoud150 - 180300 (estimated)Roughly 500mmLiquidFlight tested, most recently June 2000
Al Ababil130 - 140300 (estimated)400mm to 600mmSolidApparently not yet flight tested
J-1Inspectors believe over 150, Iraq claimed only 134 reached in testsUnknownUnknownLiquidFlight tested early 1993; Iraq claims development ended in May 1993
Range (km)Caliber (barrel diameter)PayloadStatus
Supergun960 (estimated)1000mm (350mm prototype built)Rocket-assisted projectiles350mm prototype tested before destruction under UNSCOM supervision