Iraq began launching short-range ballistic missiles (known as Scuds) at Israel and Coalition forces soon after the Coalition’s Gulf War air campaign began on January 17, 1991. Many Gulf War veterans observed or became aware of incoming or overflying Scud missiles, Patriot missiles fired in defense, and Scud missile or debris impacts. American and other Coalition forces in the Kuwait theater of operations knew that Iraq had the capability to use chemical and biological weapons, and Scud missile attacks represented a significant cause for concern for anyone within their range.

This Information Paper offers a primer on Scud missiles and describes Iraq’s use of Scuds during the Gulf War. The paper also briefly reviews topics related to counter-Scud operations, including Patriot missile defenses.

Iraq filled both chemical and biological warheads for their Scud missiles before the Gulf War. However, Iraq probably feared retaliation if they used them. In-depth research for this paper uncovered no hard evidence that Iraq fired Scuds with chemical or biological warheads during the Gulf War. All Scud debris analyzed indicated use of conventional warheads.

Iraq’s Scud attacks involved 88 missiles, of which 46 reached Coalition countries in the Kuwait theater of operations and 42 reached or closely approached Israel. A few more probably failed early in flight and struck within Iraq's borders. Iraq told United Nations inspectors after the war that they launched 93 ballistic missiles, 50 against the Coalition in the Kuwait theater of operations and 43 against Israel. Scuds, while inaccurate, nonetheless damaged area targets and caused 28 of the 148 United States battle deaths during the Gulf War. Scuds often broke up on reentry, dispersing propellant that sometimes caused burning sensations of the skin and throat, nausea, headaches, breathing difficulties and other symptoms in some United States servicemembers. Also, Scud attacks and precautionary alerts disrupted lives and operations by forcing passive defense measures and generating stress.

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