The very missiles Saddam Hussein fired at U.S. forces in Kuwait appear to have been the same weapons he either claimed not to possess or agreed to destroy.
U.S., British and Kuwait military officials said Iraq fired at least three missiles Thursday -- though they differed on how many of them were Scuds, which have been banned by the United Nations.
The first salvos were both a telling sign of Iraq's hidden weapons and a frightening reminder that Saddam still has the capability to deliver chemical or biological warheads.
The uncertainty surrounding Iraq's potentially deadly arsenal led U.S. troops and Kuwaiti citizens to pull out their gas masks and protective suits during air raid sirens Thursday that warned missiles were incoming.
Kuwaiti officials said the first two were Scuds, similar to the ones the Iraqis fired in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Pentagon described the two as "tactical ballistic missiles" -- which could include Scuds -- that were intercepted and destroyed by the PAC-3, the latest Patriot anti-missile system, as they flew toward the Kuwaiti sky at midday Thursday.
A third missile, described by Kuwaiti military officials as the Iraqi Al Samoud, broke in two and fell near the Kuwaiti border.
Iraq told U.N. inspectors in its December weapons declaration, a copy of which was shown to an Associated Press reporter, that it no longer had the Scud missiles it used against Iran in the 1980s and against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.
During the war, Iraq fired 93 Scuds -- many with ranges of 375 miles -- at major cities and coalition forces. A handful were intercepted by Patriots, some broke up before they reached their targets and others caused significant damage to buildings and homes. At the end of that war, the U.N. Security Council banned Iraq from having chemical, biological or nuclear weapons as well as missiles that could fly more than 93 miles.
Weapons inspectors accounted for all but two Scuds Iraq claimed to have had but they believed Iraq could have been hiding more.
Despite that prohibition and Iraqi claims of compliance, years of concealment became evident when Iraq admitted in 1995 that it had weaponized biological agents such as anthrax, sarin, mustard gas and botulinum toxin and even managed to fill warheads with some of the agents.
In written reports obtained by AP, the Iraqis told inspectors they decided not to fire those weapons during the Gulf War because they believed it would bring on a nuclear attack by the United States.
Today, the Iraqis maintain they have destroyed all of their weapons of mass destruction. But inspectors have been unable to verify the claims and the United States and Britain remain convinced that Iraq not only has chemical and biological weapons but is producing more.
According to Pentagon officials, Iraq fired a missile Thursday toward Kuwait City at approximately 12:24 p.m., followed by a second one at 1:30 p.m.
On Kuwaiti television, military spokesman Col. Youssef al-Mullah said one of the Scuds was shot down by three Patriot missiles.
British officials reported a slightly different version of events.
Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, a British spokesman at Camp As Sayliyah, identified just one of the missiles as a Scud.
Al-Mullah described the third missile as an Al Samoud.
Three and a half months ago, Iraq did declare its Al Samoud 2 missile system, which inspectors later ordered destroyed after test flights indicated the missile had flown slightly farther than a 93-mile range limit.
The Iraqis complied with the order, and chief inspector Hans Blix reported that about 70 of the missiles had been destroyed, leaving approximately 30 in the Iraqi arsenal.
A U.N. weapons expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the third missile also may have been an anti-ship missile or an early version of the al-Samoud which flies under 93 miles. Iraq has developed several missile systems that fall under the range permitted by the United Nations.