Rough Count

By Kate Brannen / December 8, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Federation of American Scientists reports today that surface-to-air missiles, including man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), are still being found in weapons caches in Iraq. These shoulder-launched missiles can be used to shoot down low-flying aircraft like helicopters.

After analyzing U.S. military press releases and media reports, FAS determined that at least 121 surface-to-air missiles and four additional launchers have been recovered by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Of these, at least 91, or 73 percent, are identified as Soviet-designed, Warsaw Pact missiles.

The prevalence of these missiles is no surprise because it is well known that Saddam Hussein stockpiled thousands of these types of weapons and that after his regime collapsed, they were looted from government depots, states the report.

Missiles produced by other countries have also been found in Iraq, according to FAS, but in much smaller numbers. There have been two public reports of Iranian MANPADS, the Misagh-1 missile, being discovered.

The good news: No reports of western missiles turning up in Iraq, suggesting that current U.S. and European export controls on MANPADS are "fairly effective," writes FAS.

"Western governments are also, generally speaking, more discriminating regarding whom they sell MANPADS to and what they demand of importers," states the report. "The, U.S. for example, conducts 100 percent on-site physical inventories by serial number of nearly all exported Stinger missiles."

However, the report notes that despite these controls western missiles still find their way to the black market, citing how the CIA lost control of hundreds of missiles it had given to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Despite this analysis, it is still unclear how many illicit missiles are still in circulation in Iraq, writes FAS. The number of missiles seized in raids has held steady over the past two years, but the report suggests that this may have more to do with stepped-up neighborhood patrols than the total number of missiles.

What is definitely down is the number of aircraft crashes resulting from missile attacks and ground fire, according to the report.

"The threat persists, however, as evidenced by reports of missile launches at a C-130 cargo plane carrying a Congressional delegation in August 2007 and at an Apache helicopter flying over Sadr City in May 2008," it states.