Friday October 3, 3:26 pm ET
By Pawel Kozlowski
(Adds details, French reaction)
WARSAW, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Polish troops in Iraq have found four French-built advanced anti-aircraft missiles which were built this year, a Polish Defence Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Friday.
France strongly denied having sold any such missiles to Iraq for nearly two decades, and said it was impossible that its newest missiles should turn up in Iraq.
"Polish troops discovered an ammunition depot on September 29 near the region of Hilla and there were four French-made Roland-type missiles," Defence Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said.
"It is not the first time Polish troops found ammunition in Iraq but to our surprise these missiles were produced in 2003."
The Roland anti-aircraft system is a short-range air defence missile in service with at least 10 countries, including France and Germany.
They are fired from a mobile launcher vehicle and defence experts say the missiles are highly effective against aircraft attacking at low and medium altitude.
Under a strict trade embargo imposed by the United Nations, Iraq was barred from importing arms after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Among others, Russia, Britain and France all sold arms to Iraq in the 1970s and 1980s. In Iraq's arsenal were Soviet-built Scud missiles, British Chieftain tanks and French Mirage fighters.
But Iraq managed to circumvent the arms trade ban in the 1990s through shadowy deals with various arms traders and kept its military equipment functioning.
"NO MILITARY EXPORTS"
"Since July 1990, France has not authorised a single shipment of military equipment to Iraq," a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters. Similar accusations were made in the U.S. media in April, she said.
In 1980-81, 13 Roland-1 missile systems were shipped to Iraq and from 1983 to 1986, 100 Roland-2 missile systems. The Roland-3 has never been exported to Iraq, she said.
"It is not credible to say that the Roland missiles found a few days ago were produced in 2003 and delivered just before the Anglo-American intervention," the spokeswoman said.
"Let's be absolutely clear about this: no military exports to Iraq were licensed after July 1990."
It was unlikely that the missiles could be used 17-18 years after their delivery, she added.
Mleczak said Polish troops were notified about the missiles by a local Iraqi, who received a reward for the information.
"The ammunition depot was neutralised," said Mleczak. Polish television pictures showed missiles placed in a shallow trench and a huge explosion when the Poles blew up munitions at the site.
Since early September, Poland, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, has led a multinational force in one of four so-called stabilisation zones, in central Iraq.
In the run-up to the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq war, American and British combat pilots struck Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries repeatedly as they patrolled no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.
Oh my! Would the snail eaters really do that?