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Iraq has obtained inflatable, motorized boats from Yugoslavia for suicide missions against U.S. and allied forces in the Persian Gulf.

Western intelligence sources identified the vessels as Zodiac-class boats procured from companies in the Balkans. The boats were purchased by Syria and smuggled into Iraq for use by a new suicide unit formed by the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has been actively recruiting members for various suicide units. Some of the units have been operating against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq. Others are being trained for missions against neighboring Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The boats are designed for a new Iraqi underwater demolition team called Mustashad Al Bahr or the Naval Martyrs. The unit has been training in the Habbaniye Lake northwest of Baghdad to carry out suicide operations against U.S. naval vessels and ports in Kuwait and other areas of the Persian Gulf, the sources said.

“The procurement of the boat marks a strategy by Saddam to use suicide operations as a major tool against U.S. troops,” a senior intelligence source said. “The Republican Guard has been ordered to stress the formation of a range of suicide units, including those of ground forces.”

The head of the new suicide naval unit was identified as Abu Leith, a major in the Special Republican Guard. The unit is part of Unit 999 of Iraqi military intelligence.

Iraq seeks to obtain at least 100 such boats for suicide and sabotage operations against U.S. warships. It is unclear how many boats have already arrived in Iraq.

Over the last few months, the sources said, the U.S.-led multinational naval force in the Persian Gulf has intercepted at least two vessels that were carrying small motorized boats destined for Iraq. The sources said Iraqi agents could have ordered up to 1,000 such boats in hope that 10 percent of them would make it to Saddam’s units.

The Iraqi requirements, relayed to a number of European companies, call for a motorized boat that can transport 10 soldiers and equipment. The sources said Iraq is seeking both rubber and wooden boats that can evade U.S. naval radar.

The Iraqi procurement efforts are being handled by Syria, sources said. A Syrian merchant close to Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas has been negotiating with European companies for the inflatable rubber motorboats, the sources said. The merchant was identified as Abdul Latif Ayish, who runs an import-export company by the same name.



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