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Victorious Allies Start Dividing Up Spoils of War Abandoned by Iraqis : Weapons: The U.S. will likely get the lion’s share of tanks, rockets and missiles. Much of the equipment is being destroyed.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The spoils of war are accumulating in the Iraqi and Kuwaiti deserts, where 250 U.S. military specialists are sifting through a veritable bazaar of Soviet-made tanks, rockets and missiles abandoned by fleeing or captured Iraqi troops, Pentagon officials said Saturday.

Under international law, a vanquished army’s castoff equipment belongs to the victor. Although allied leaders are still haggling over who will keep what, the United States, as leader of the alliance, probably can acquire the lion’s share of the weapons--if it wants them.

Six weeks of devastating aerial bombardment and four days of intense ground warfare wiped out the bulk of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s armor, and many of the surviving weapons are being destroyed in place to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, particularly Hussein’s.

Of those functional arms that escape destruction, many are expected to reappear as part of the U.S. arsenal, most likely in the Southern California desert, where they would bolster the force of Soviet-style weapons against which U.S. forces train.

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“We’ve never got this much stuff before,” said Maj. William O’Connell, a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, which oversees a battalion of specialists in foreign military equipment. “A lot of the stuff we fabricated for use by our ‘opposing force’ may suddenly be replaced by the real deal.”

The “opposing force” is the team of experts in Soviet and Soviet-style tactics who fight against U.S. forces at the Army’s National Training Center in Ft. Irwin. The bulk of the Iraqi equipment chosen for shipment to the United States is likely to end up at Ft. Irwin, where Army, Air Force and Marine Corps units train in a desert setting against mock enemies.

Some of the opposing forces at Ft. Irwin use actual Soviet equipment, like the tanks and other weapons left behind by the Iraqis. In other cases, the Army has revamped U.S.-made equipment with “visible modifications” to make it look like Soviet-made goods.

Like the victorious allies who wanted to deny Germany an offensive army after World War I, the U.S.-led coalition is destroying many of Iraq’s abandoned weapons as they find them, including a large number of roughly 300 still-functional tanks in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

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“We want to deny them to the Iraqis,” said one Pentagon official.

After the weapons are destroyed or carried off, Baghdad will be left with a much more lightly armed ground force composed mainly of infantry units, which are not suited for large-scale offensive operations, military experts said.

Before destroying any equipment, however, U.S. teams are examining them closely for signs of technological modifications and for anything of potential value to intelligence analysts. Among the early finds were improvised laser-range finders that had improved the ability of some Iraqi tanks to sight targets, military officials said.

Officials suggested that another, more subtle aim of the destruction-in-place is to deny the Soviet-made equipment to one of the key coalition members--Syria. With an arsenal consisting almost entirely of Soviet-made equipment, Syria easily could integrate the Iraqi arms into its own force, or “cannibalize” them to keep its existing weapons running.

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Even so, some of the Iraqi equipment is bound to end up in the arsenals of other coalition allies, such as Syria and Egypt, which also have a lot of Soviet-made equipment. Included in the booty, according to early reports, are many smaller weapons, such as grenades, rocket launchers, low-level antiaircraft missiles and tank-killing missiles, in addition to big-ticket items, such as tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces.

For the Foreign Military Intelligence Battalion based in Aberdeen, Md., the spoils not only could boost the U.S. arsenal of “adversary weapons,” they could keep those already on hand--most bought from the Israelis or international arms merchants--in operating condition.

Among the battalion’s top priorities on the Gulf War battlefield, according to O’Connell, is to strip Iraqi weapons of spare and repair parts that could be used to keep the “opposing forces” running at the National Training Center.

Other goods could be kept at the Army’s Proving Range at Aberdeen, where military contractors would have access to them. Understanding the manufacturing and performance characteristics of Soviet-made weaponry, as well as the modifications that buyers make to the equipment, can help guide the development of new U.S. weapon systems.

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It can also provide useful intelligence for U.S. allies, such as Israel, which may face forces armed with similar weapons in the future.

Still other bits of Iraqi weaponry will likely go on display as “war trophies” at the entrances of U.S. military bases that are home to troops victorious in the Persian Gulf.

While the Iraqi weapons may be in high demand for such purposes, experts said an international arms market glutted with weapons from Eastern Europe and the relatively poor performance of Soviet-made equipment in the Gulf War have dampened overall demand.

“In the months ahead, when we’re talking about Soviet military equipment, it’s likely to be a buyer’s market,” Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in a speech Friday before the American Legislative Exchange Council.

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The Warsaw Pact military alliance disbanded itself last week, and many of Moscow’s erstwhile allies and arms buyers are eager to unload their Soviet-made weapons, experts said.

With Iraq virtually disarmed, it, too, may turn to this glutted market in hopes of rebuilding its army. Experts said that possibility is bound to accelerate calls for the Atlantic Alliance and former Warsaw Pact members to negotiate agreements restricting the sale of such weapons to Third World countries, especially Iraq.

Meanwhile, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are expected to turn to the United States, whose weapons triumphed in the Persian Gulf, to rebuild their own forces.

They would be unlikely to integrate refurbished Iraqi equipment into their arsenals, according to U.S. experts, because of its dismal performance and because it would be too hard to maintain without a continuing flow of spare parts.

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