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Belgrade Hands US Baghdad Secrets

Officials in Belgrade have given the American government secret details of Saddam Hussein's war machine.
By Aleksandar Radic

The authorities have handed the United States Milosevic-era intelligence on Saddam Hussein's regime as proof of their willingness to cooperate with the American-led campaign against terrorism, according to military sources in the Yugoslav capital.


The move came after The Sunday Times newspaper in London reported at the beginning of the month that Belgrade continued to collaborate with the Baghdad regime.


The authorities immediately denied the accusations. But concerned that the claims might undermine the country's prospects of joining NATO's Partnership for Peace programme, they agreed to deliver the Americans confidential files detailing Yugoslav military cooperation with Iraq over the last two decades.


A political source close to the Yugoslav government told IWPR that Washington had been greatly alarmed by the media report and had asked for an explanation. The authorities provided guarantees that it was neither arming Iraq nor providing it advice.


The decision to hand over the entire federal military intelligence archive to the US follows the earlier provision of important details about Saddam's war machinery in the aftermath of the September 11 outrages, according to a top Yugoslav army official, who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity.


"Belgrade has (already) provided details about Iraq's integrated anti-aircraft defense system, the communication system which links the main command with operation units, the blueprints of reinforced-concrete shelters and underground edifices and particulars on the Iraqi leader's key personnel," he said.


The political source said that Washington had been pleased by Belgrade's earlier cooperation, but began to express concern following reports earlier this month that the NATO-led stabilisation force SFOR in Bosnia was investigating claims that the Bosnian Serb defence company Orao Aviation Institute in Bijeljina may have helped service Russian-built Iraqi jets.


Their concerns were heightened after The Sunday Times reported that several Yugoslav army officers were presently in Iraq helping to organise the country's air defences, the political source said.


IWPR has learned from several international sources that Belgrade was able to prove that it had no links with Baghdad, but could not rule out the possibility that private arms traders may be making deals without the state's knowledge.


"The period of cooperation with the Iraqi regime ended with Milosevic, so most of the present allegations are coming too late. Belgrade has shown this with very concrete steps (to open up its archives)," the military official told IWPR.


Belgrade's cooperation with Baghdad began in the early Seventies, with groups of Yugoslav and Iraqi military experts shuttling between the two countries. However, it was only after the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980 that they began to collaborate in earnest.


Yugoslavia built dozens of fortified-concrete plane shelters, military airports and underground command posts in Iraq. It also provided technology for the mass-production of all calibres of ammunition and rockets for multi-barrel launchers, and Iraqi planes and weaponry were overhauled at Yugoslav army technical institutes.


In the Nineties, sanctions were imposed on both countries preventing official military ties, but a thriving black market trade emerged with arms dealers smuggling vital spare parts to the Iraqi army and air force.


Yugoslavia is now not only seeking to draw a line under the allegiances of the past, but also hopes to bolster its chances of joining NATO's Partnership for Peace programme, which it believes is critical to the country's recovery.


Two years after the fall of Milosevic, internal political problems and unresolved issues such as relations between Serbia and Montenegro and cooperation with The Hague tribunal have slowed down Yugoslavia's bid to participate in the alliance's initiative, whose members already include Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and Albania.


The army's acting chief of staff General Branko Krga made an unreported visit to the Pentagon and the US State Department in September to discuss remaining obstacles to Yugoslavia's participation in the programme.


Aleksander Radic is a defence analyst at the Belgrade news agency VIP


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