View Full Version : Saddam's Chemical Weapons

Bill Moore
01-06-2014, 09:00 AM
I was researching something else and as so often happens I was diverted and started exploring our support to Saddam in the 1980s in Iraq's war against Iran. Of interest is the discussion on chemical weapons use and our policy regarding it at the time. It has relevance to the ongoing discussions regarding Syria. These were different times and the context was different, but reviewing this still provides some valuable lessons in my opinion. IMO we're getting closer to right with a zero tolerance towards chemical weapons.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/07/30/africas_big_brother_lives_in_beijing_huawei_china_ surveillance

Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history -- and still gave him a hand.

In contrast to today's wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein's widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.

This is a long article, and it has several declassified CIA reports attached that provide a different tone than the author of the article. The reports were professionally written, and in some of the reports they left the rest of the intelligence summary so many will find the assessments of the troubles in Yugoslavia, Sudan, Nigeria, etc. during the 80s interested and remarkably accurate.


When our "friend" Saddam was gassing the Kurds

Interesting piece from the French.

We learn, for example, that Mr Al Majid convened the Ba’ath Party leaders on 26 May 1987. “As soon as we complete the deportations,” he informed them, “we will start attacking [the Pershmega resistance] everywhere... then we will surround them in a small pocket and attack them with chemical weapons. I will not attack them with chemicals just one day; I will continue to attack them with chemicals for fifteen days... I told the expert comrades that I need guerrilla groups in Europe to kill whoever they see of them [Kurdish oppositionists]. I will do it, with the help of God. I will defeat them and follow them to Iran. Then I will ask the Mujaheddin (2) to attack them there (3).”

Implications are clear in the following passage, and the prologue to this is around 400,000 Kurds were killed.

Clearly, Iraq’s powerful allies did not want Baghdad condemned. In August 1988 the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights voted by 11 votes to 8 not to condemn Iraq for human rights violations. Only the Scandinavian countries, Australia and Canada, together with bodies like the European Parliament and the Socialist International, saved their honour by clearly condemning Iraq.

A Frontline report on the arming of Iraq, originally aired in 1990.


This is a complicated story of miscalculation, deceit and greed, and it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the most dangerous weapons Western forces face today in the desert are in many ways our own creation.

Dr. CARUS: By the late '70s, however, they discovered that there were West German companies that would gladly provide this kind of equipment. So, basically, they went into Germany, they found companies and individuals who would help them, and over the course of four or five years they built a small but capable production infrastructure.

Everybody gets dirty in this piece, the Brits for providing long range missile technology, the U.S. for providing the chemicals and banking support, etc. This piece was developed as we were building up forces to liberate Kuwait. It ends with:

NARRATOR: Failure has no friends, and so it's only too easy to condemn the policy which led us into our desert showdown with Iraq. But for me, the most important lesson is not that presidents can be wrong -- which they have been, and will be again -- but that it is a mistake to ignore principle for the sake of supposed practicality, of realpolitik. It is a mistake to support those who share neither our values nor our goals. It is a lesson we have been taught repeatedly, and a lesson we repeatedly forget. We always pay a price for not remembering. I'm Hodding Carter.

Then a roll up of various articles (credibility unknown) at this site. I haven't read any of these yet.


01-06-2014, 11:15 AM

Good find, even if I haven't followed the links given.

My recollection is that the UK did not prosecute anyone for the sale of technology or weapons to Iraq until the Matrix Churchill affair in 1991-1992, Wikipedia has an all too telling passage:
Following the first Gulf War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War) of 1991 there was interest in the extent to which British companies had been supplying Saddam Hussein's administration with the materials to prosecute the war. Four directors of the British machine tools manufacturer Matrix Churchill were put on trial for supplying equipment and knowledge to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed, as it was revealed that the company had been advised by the government on how to sell arms to Iraq.


There was an inquiry, known as the Scott Report:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Report

Here is a passage from Wiki:
The Scott Report represents possibly the most exhaustive study produced to that date of the individual responsibility of ministers to Parliament. Scott comments on the difficulty of extracting from departments the required documents (some 130,000 of them in all) and notes how Customs and Excise could not find out what Ministry of Defence export policy was, and how intelligence reports were not passed on to those who needed to know. The Economist commented that "Sir Richard exposed an excessively secretive government machine, riddled with incompetence, slippery with the truth and willing to mislead Parliament".

As Matrix Churchill was based in nearby Coventry there were some local ripples when local businesses were asked to help the police with information, even sources and responded with "will you really protect us, look what happened to them - they were prosecuted". Matrix Churchill shortly afterwards collapsed as a business.

There was the 'Super gun' affair too, with two Uk companies making barrels for a Gerald Bull designed super gun, which if IIRC one was found in situ nearly ready to fire at Israel:

This time no-one was prosecuted.

I know that one UK supplier of non-lethal, non-military equipment (fire protection systems) was able to supply technical drawings of Iraqi underground bunkers fitted with their systems, although no-one actually set foot inside, to the authorities after the invasion of Kuwait.

I have a vague recollection that Germany sought to prosecute chemical weapons suppliers.

All told a very murky area of public policy, let alone the issues around dual-use technology and business.

01-07-2014, 06:57 AM
At that time plenty of western countries were ready and willing to build chemical and nuclear plants that had dual use capabilities and even after it was pretty apparent they were being used for weapons neither the companies nor countries really cared unless they were a committed enemy. Thus German, French, and U.S. companies all contributed to Saddam chemical and biological weapons and nuclear programs. The Reagan administration provided targeting for the Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq War and knew about the chemical weapons and actually released some statements blaming Iran for the attacks. When Saddam attacked the Kurds in Halabja, Washington again denied that anything bad had happened and even stymied an investigation if my memory serves me right. Halabja was actually part of the Iran-Iraq War having been captured by Iranian and Kurdish forces before the chemical attack.

Iran after the 1979 Revolution was the new bogeyman and the U.S. was perfectly happy to see Saddam use any means he had at his disposal to fight Khomeini.

That Foreign Policy article just came out at the end of last year, but it was all common knowledge even when it happened in the 1980s and was reported in the mainstream press, and again during the Gulf War, and for a third time during the first round of inspections. It's just that either people forgot about it, or Iraq was not a main topic of their studies.

Bill Moore
01-08-2014, 07:17 AM
I recall the reports during the 80s and Iran-Contra, but like you said memories are short, and a lot folks now in mid-level leadership positions were too young to be aware of these events, so if they weren't covered in their history classes it is probably new, so I felt it was worth posting. I posted principally to compare our views of WMD then and now, based on our recent efforts to draw a line in the sand with Syria due to chemical weapons use.

01-12-2014, 09:53 PM
Is this a thread about 'Backgrounds of Iraqi Chemical Weapons', or about 'Iraqi Chemical Weapons (as such)'?

Namely, it sounds like the former, but the title indicates the later. And if it would be the later, then we should be talking about such stuff like Spanish-made (Expal) BR.250s and BR.500s, filled with chemical agents, which were the primary CW of the Iraqi Air Force.

BTW: the weapons in question were actually Spanish-made variants of the US-made Mk.80-series (manufactured under licence, of course). The Iraqis particularly 'loved' the BR.500 (Mk.84), and this was not only used while filled with CWs, but also - in conjunction with South-African-made Jupiter fuzes (with Daisy cutters) - as HE-bomb.

Indeed, when the Soviets refused to deliver their FAB-500Ts (a special variant of the FAB-500M-62 HE-bomb, made for deployment on MiG-25RB recce-fighter), the Iraqis equipped one of their MiG-25RBs with Spanish-made MERs and BR.500s, and have shown it to the Soviet Air Attach in Baghdad.

The guy flipped out, of course, and made a few hasty calls to Moscow. To keep a long story short: one week later, the IrAF has got the demanded FAB-500Ts and necessary bomb shackles, and flew the first 'Blitz' on Tehran...