Allan George/LONDON

IRAQ HAS ADMITTED to United Nations officials that it had manufactured its own Scud rocket engines, throwing into question Baghdad's present missile-engineering capabilities.

The Iraqis claim that they acquired the capability to build the engines by reverse engineering. It had been known that Baghdad was producing the airframes for the Scud missile derivatives which it built, but until now it was thought that the only engines available to the Iraqis had been those which had been supplied by the former Soviet Union.

Iraq disclosed its Scud production capability recently to Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish diplomat who heads the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The revelation is thought to have been a move to pre-empt disclosures by Hussain Kamal, a cousin and son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, who defected to Jordan in August. Hussain Kamal previously headed Iraq's super-weapons programmes.

Iraq fired scores of Scuds into Iranian cities during the 1980-8 Iran-Iraq war. Baghdad fired 40 Scuds at Israel and 48 into Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1 Gulf crisis. Most of the missiles were poorly built and broke up on descent.

Iraq gave UNSCOM inspectors significant new information about its biological-weapons programme in August, including details of how it planned to deliver its biological arsenal.

One delivery method would have been the use of modified "external tanks" - originally supplied as auxiliary fuel tanks for combat aircraft - to spray germs over wide areas from high-flying aircraft.

Source: Flight International