Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Review Al-Hussein, Iraqi Indigenous Conventional Arms Projects, 1980-2003

Altobchi, Ali, with Cooper, Tom & Fontanellaz, Adrien, Al-Hussein, Iraqi Indigenous Conventional Arms Projects, 1980-2003, Warwick: Helion & Company, 2022


Al-Hussein, Iraqi Indigenous Conventional Arms Projects, 1980-2003 by Ali Altobchi with Tom Cooper and Adrien Fontanellaz is about how Saddam Hussein attempted to build an indigenous defense industry for Iraq. Baghdad was able to develop some weapons like long range missiles but otherwise it remained almost completely dependent upon foreign technology and know how to arm itself.


Starting in the 1970s Iraq began developing its own defense sector. A major motivation was the Soviet Union which was the nation’s main arms supplier but an unreliable one. It consistently failed to deliver all the armaments Iraq ordered and at the start of the Iran-Iraq War imposed an arms embargo which led to shortage of ammunition and spare parts. In response, Iraq entered into deals with countries such as France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Moscow initially tried to undermine the effort to keep Iraq dependent upon it but eventually tried to help. The result was Iraq was able to produce its own ammunition, artillery and mortar shells, bombs, electronics and its own series of long range rockets. Still, during the Iran-Iraq War it couldn’t make enough and high technology and major equipment like tanks and planes still had to be bought abroad.


What the vast majority of Al-Hussein is about is the individual weapons programs. Project Babylon for instance was to build a super gun capable of launching a spy satellite into outer space. It was developed by Canadian designer Gerald Bull. In the West it was portrayed as a weapon but it couldn’t be aimed or moved. It was never finished after Iraq executed a British journalist and London and other Western countries cracked down on weapons shipments to Iraq. More successful was Iraq’s ballistic missile program. During the Iran-Iraq War Saddam wanted a weapon that could hit Tehran. That led it to work with Egypt and Argentina on a missile program which was never completed but the know how was used to build upon the Soviet SCUD rocket. In 1988 that became the Al-Hussein which was fired at Iran in the War of the Cities and also used during the Gulf War to target Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain and Qatar. Those are some of the most interesting stories included in the book and far more interesting then reading about electronic capabilities of radars or bomb casings which are also included.


Al-Hussein is a very detailed and in depth review of dozens of weapons programs Iraq tried. It covers everything from buying electronic warfare equipment from France to rocket launchers from Yugoslavia. It has Iraq building cluster bombs to developing its own ballistic missile program. The writing can get technical at times and there are plenty of rare pictures including color panels of equipment like Iraqi MiGs. If someone was interested in those topics this would be the book to read.


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