British Firm Denies Making ‘Super Gun’ for Iraq
A British manufacturer of gun barrels denied Thursday that eight crates of piping impounded by customs officials contained sections of a “super gun” destined for Iraq.
Echoing the Iraqi ambassador, the firm said the crates contain pipes for petrochemical use.
However, British military experts Thursday examined the contents of the crates, seized the day before in the northeast England port of Middlesbrough. Afterward, the British customs service issued a statement saying the experts confirmed that the piping could be used to construct a 130-foot-long barrel for a gun that would allow Baghdad to pound Israel or Iran with shells carrying nuclear explosives or nerve gas.
Such a gun, with a range of hundreds of miles, apparently would be one of the biggest ever built. By comparison, the giant howitzer barrel nicknamed “Big Bertha,” used by the Germans in World War I, was 110 feet long and had a range of up to 75 miles.
The seizure came on the heels of another operation last month in which customs officials at London’s Heathrow Airport seized 40 triggers for nuclear devices destined for Iraq. Officials in Iraq deny it is building nuclear weapons.
The company that made the piping, Sheffield Forgemasters, said the crates contain segments of a pipeline for an Iraqi petrochemical project and insisted that the order was cleared with the British government.
“If they attempt to use these pieces to make up a gun, I would not want to stand within half a mile of it,” chief executive Phillip Wright told reporters. “It would probably blow itself to pieces.”
He also said his company had been approached by Iraq to make a gun barrel but that it refused.
Iraqi Ambassador Azmi Shafik Salihi warned on television that the affair could cost Britain trade with Iraq and insisted, “They are pipes for the petrochemical industry.”
The crates were waiting to be loaded aboard a Bermuda-registered vessel called the Gur Mariner, which is under charter to the Iraqi Maritime Organization, a customs spokesman said.