An American missile, identified from the remains of its serial
number, was pinpointed yesterday as the cause of the explosion at a
Baghdad market on Friday night that killed at least 62 Iraqis.
The codes on the foot-long shrapnel shard, seen by the
Independent correspondent Robert Fisk at the scene of the
bombing in the Shu'ale district, came from a weapon manufactured in
Texas by Ray- theon, the world's biggest producer of "smart"
The identification of the missile as American is an embarrassing
blow to Washington and London as they try to match their promises of
minimal civilian casualties with the reality of precision bombing.
Both governments have suggested the Shu'ale bombing and the
explosion at another Baghdad market that killed at least 14 people
last Wednesday were caused by ageing Iraqi anti-aircraft
missiles. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday it was
"increasingly probable" the first explosion was down to the Iraqis
and Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, suggested on BBC's Newsnight
last night that President Saddam sacked his head of air defences
because they were not working properly.
But investigations by The Independent show that the
missile thought to be either a Harm (High Speed Anti-Radiation
Missile) device, or a Paveway laser-guided bomb was sold by
Raytheon to the procurement arm of the US Navy. The American
military has confirmed that a navy EA-6B "Prowler" jet, based on the
USS Kittyhawk, was in action over the Iraqi capital on Friday
and fired at least one Harm missile to protect two American fighters
from a surface-to-air missile battery.
The Pentagon and Raytheon, which last year had sales of $16.8bn
(£10.6bn), declined to comment on the serial number evidence last
night. A US Defence Department spokeswoman said: "Our investigations
are continuing. We cannot comment on serial numbers which may or may
not have been found at the scene."
An official Washington source went further, claiming that the
shrapnel could have been planted at the scene by the Iraqi regime.
On Saturday, Downing Street disclosed intelligence that linked
the Wednesday attack and by implication Friday's killings
on Iraqi missiles being fired without radar guidance and
falling back to earth. The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "A large
number of surface-to-air missiles have been malfunctioning and many
have failed to hit their targets and have fallen back on to Baghdad.
We are not saying definitively that these explosions were caused by
Iraqi missiles but people should approach this with due scepticism."
The Anglo-American claims were undermined by the series of 25
digits and letters on the piece of fuselage shown to Mr Fisk by an
elderly resident of Shu'ale who lived 100 yards from the site of the
6ft crater made by the explosion.
The numbers on the fragment retrieved from the scene and
not shown to the Iraqi authorities read: "30003-704ASB7492".
The letter "B" was partially obscured by scratches and may be an
"H". It was followed by a second code: "MFR 96214 09."
An online database of suppliers maintained by the Defence
Logistics Information Service, part of the Department of Defence,
showed that the reference MFR 96214 was the identification or "cage"
number of a Raytheon plant in the city of McKinney, Texas.
The 30003 reference refers to the Naval Air Systems Command, the
procurement agency responsible for furnishing the US Navy's air
force with its weaponry.
The Pentagon refused to disclose which weapon was designated by
the remaining letters and numbers, although defence experts said the
information could be found within seconds from the Nato database of
all items of military hardware operated across the Alliance, "from a
nuclear bomb to a bath plug", as one put it.
Raytheon, which also produces the Patriot anti-missile system and
the Tomahawk cruise missile, lists its Harms and its latest Paveway
III laser-guided bombs, marketed with the slogan "One bomb, one
target", as among its most accurate weaponry.
The company's sales description for its anti-radar missile says:
"Harm was designed with performance and quality in mind. In actual
field usage, Harm now demonstrates reliability four times better
than specification. No modern weapons arsenal is complete without
Harm in its inventory."
Faced with apparent proof that one of its missiles had been less
accurate than specification, Raytheon was more coy on the
capabilities of its products. A spokeswoman at the company's
headquarters in Tucson, Arizona, said: "All questions relating to
the use of our products in the field are to be handled by the
appropriate military authority."
Defence experts said the damage caused at Shu'ale was consistent
with that of Paveway or, more probably, a Harm weapon, which carries
a warhead designed to explode into thousands of aluminium fragments
and has a range of 80km.
Despite its manufacturer's claims, it also has a record of
unreliability when fired at a target which "disappears" if, as the
Iraqi forces do, the target's operators switch their radar signal
rapidly on and off. Nick Cook, of Jane's Defence Weekly,
said: "The problem with Harms is that they can be seduced away from
their targets by any sort of curious transmission. They are meant to
have corrected that but there have been problems." During the Kosovo
conflict four years ago, a farmer and his daughter were badly
injured when a missile exploded in their village. A shard of the
casing was found near by with a reference very similar to that found
in Baghdad: "30003 704AS4829 MFP 96214."
The American navy confirmed that one of its Prowler jets, which
is used to jam enemy radar, had been over an unspecified area of
Baghdad on Friday night. A pool reporter on the carrier USS
Kittyhawk was told that the Prowler squadron had fired its
first Harm on Friday evening in response to an air-defence unit that
was threatening two F/A-18 Hornet jets. Lieutenant Rob Fluck told
the journalist that the crew had not seen where their missile had