Iraq strengthens air force with French parts By Bill Gertz THE WASHINGTON TIMES A French company has been selling spare parts to Iraq for its fighter jets and military helicopters during the past several months, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The unidentified company sold the parts to a trading company in the United Arab Emirates, which then shipped the parts through a third country into Iraq by truck. The spare parts included goods for Iraq's French-made Mirage F-1 jets and Gazelle attack helicopters. An intelligence official said the illegal spare-parts pipeline was discovered in the past two weeks and that sensitive intelligence about the transfers indicates that the parts were smuggled to Iraq as recently as January. Other intelligence reports indicate that Iraq had succeeded in acquiring French weaponry illegally for years, the official said. The parts appear to be included in an effort by the Iraqi military to build up materiel for its air forces before any U.S. military action, which could occur before the end of the month. The officials identified the purchaser of the parts as the Al Tamoor Trading Co., based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A spokesman for the company could not be reached for comment. The French military parts were then sent by truck into Iraq from a neighboring country the officials declined to identify. Iraq has more than 50 Mirage F-1 jets and an unknown number of Gazelle attack helicopters, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. An administration official said the French parts transfers to Iraq may be one reason France has so vehemently opposed U.S. plans for military action against Iraq. "No wonder the French are opposing us," this official said. The official, however, said intelligence reports of the parts sale did not indicate that the activity was sanctioned by the French government or that Paris knows about the transfers. The intelligence reports did not identify the French company involved in selling the aircraft parts or whether the parts were new or used. The Mirage F-1 was made by France's Dassault Aviation. Gazelle helicopters were made by Aerospatiale, which later became part of a consortium of European defense companies. The importation of military goods by Iraq is banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Nathalie Loiseau, press counselor at the French Embassy, said her government has no information about the spare-parts smuggling and has not been approached by the U.S. government about the matter. "We fully comply with the U.N. sanctions, and there is no sale of any kind of military material or weapons to Iraq," she said. A CIA spokesman had no comment. A senior administration official declined to discuss Iraq's purchase of French warplane and helicopter parts. "It is well known that the Iraqis use front companies to try to obtain a number of prohibited items," the official said. The disclosure comes amid heightened anti-French sentiment in the United States over Paris' opposition to U.S. plans for using force to disarm Iraq. A senior defense official said France undermined U.S. efforts to disarm Iraq last year by watering down language of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 that last fall required Iraq to disarm all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. France, along with Russia, Germany and China, said yesterday that they would block a joint U.S.-British U.N. resolution on the use of force against Iraq. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that France "will not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes resorting to force." "Russia and France, as permanent members of the Security Council, will assume their full responsibilities on this point," he stated. France has been Iraq's best friend in the West. French arms sales to Baghdad were boosted in the 1970s under Premier Jacques Chirac, the current president. Mr. Chirac once called Saddam Hussein a "personal friend." During the 1980s, when Paris backed Iraq in its war against Iran, France sold Mirage fighter bombers and Super Entendard aircraft to Baghdad, along with Exocet anti-ship missiles. French-Iraqi ties soured after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that led to the 1991 Persian Gulf war. France now has an estimated $4 billion in debts owed to it by Iraq as a result of arms sales and infrastructure construction projects. The debt is another reason U.S. officials believe France is opposing military force to oust Saddam. Henry Sokolski, director of the private Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said French transfers of military equipment to Iraq would have "an immediate and relevant military consequence, if this was done." "The United States with its allies are going to suppress the Iraqi air force and air defense very early on in any conflict, and it's regrettable that the French have let a company complicate that mission," Mr. Sokolski said. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last month released intelligence information showing videotape of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage that had been modified to spray anthrax spores. A CIA report to Congress made public in January stated that Iraq has aggressively sought advanced conventional arms. "A thriving gray-arms market and porous borders have allowed Baghdad to acquire smaller arms and components for larger arms, such as spare parts for aircraft, air defense systems, and armored vehicles," the CIA stated. Iraq also has obtained some military goods through the U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food program. A second CIA report in October on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stated: "Iraq imports goods using planes, trains, trucks, and ships without any type of international inspections â in violation of UN Security Council resolutions."