Iraq: How George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan helped Iraq
Develop their Weapons of Mass Destruction
December 13, 2002
By Christian Dewar
There are many ironies regarding the seemingly inevitable
war with Iraq. Despite wide spread protests around the world,
the bellicose draft-dodger who appears to have gone AWOL from
the Texas National Guard is hell bent on retribution for his
father's mistakes in the Gulf War. Unable to articulate a
reason for going to war and apparently willing to alienate
our closest allies by doing so, chicken hawks like Rumsfeld,
Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Frank Gaffney
are apparently ready to attack regardless of what the inspectors
find or don't find. Osama has been forgotten even as Al Qaeda
continues to claim responsibility for ongoing terrorist attacks.
The biggest irony aside from the fact that these men who
avoided military service are so eager to spill blood is that
Dubya would not be going to war in order to destroy Iraq's
Weapons of Mass Destruction if his father had not enthusiastically
sold them to Hussein in the first place. Ronald Reagan and
George H.W. Bush sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth
of weapons and provided the technology for Saddam's chemical,
biological and nuclear programs.
The reasoning of the Reagan/Bush administrations for arming
Iraq was that while Saddam was certainly an odious human being,
he could serve as the region's policeman. He might be a bastard,
but he was "our bastard". At the time, Iraq was fighting a
war with Iran and the United States was worried that a victory
for Saddam's nemesis could result in the spread of fundamentalist
Islamic regimes which would destabilize the region and block
our access to the oil in the Middle East.
There was another more nefarious justification which was
best espoused by the CIA's Ted Schackley in his treatise "The
Third Option". Schackley believed that by arming two enemies
to kill one another, neither would be able to acquire hegemony
over the region and both sides would be weakened. Since we
had armed Iran under the Shah, selling weapons to Iraq would
counterbalance the power in the region. Arming Saddam would
also serve to coax him away from the orbit of his Soviet sponsor.
Another irony, of course, was that while they were arming
Iraq and providing their army with satellite images of Iranian
troop movements, Oliver North and John Poindexter were selling
American taxpayer financed missiles to the Iranian Islamic
fundamentalists who held American hostages.
Of course, George Bush and James Baker were also oil men
and they realized the vast quantity of black gold under Iraqi
sands. There were huge profits to be made importing Iraqi
oil. Saddam could help to insure the safety of oil tankers
and protect them from Iranian attacks, ensuring a constant
flow. Bush and Baker sought to have a billion dollar contract
for the construction of an oil pipeline in Iraq directed to
their friends at Bechtel, the occasional employer of George
Schultz and Casper Weinberger.
They also envisioned the huge profits that could be made
selling Saddam weapons. Saddam was spending around a billion
dollars a month in his war with Iran. It was a feeding frenzy
of buying and selling that made fortunes for the merchants
When Jimmy Carter was in office, he had prohibited the sale
of weapons to either Iran or Iraq. Reagan removed Iraq from
the list of nations that sponsored terrorism. Iraq was now
eligible for U.S. government loan guarantees which he needed
as the costly war was bankrupting his country. Although shipping
arms to Iraq was illegal, by keeping this information secret
from Congress and the American people, they were able to do
an end-run around the Constitution and the War Powers Act.
Alan Friedman is a respected journalist for the Financial
Times who has won numerous awards for his correspondence.
His book entitled, "Spider's Web: How the White House Illegally
Armed Iraq" outlines the efforts of the Reagan and Bush administrations
to supply Hussein with the most sophisticated weaponry.
According to Friedman, President Reagan's special Middle
East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad bearing a handwritten
note to Saddam offering to renew diplomatic relations and
to expand military and business ties. On November 26, 1984
diplomatic relations were restored. When Bush became president,
he signed a waiver which said that prohibiting the sale of
goods to Iraq were not in the best interests of the United
States. Later, Bush signed a classified secret policy called
National Security Directive 26 which encouraged U.S. oil companies
to do business with Iraq.
Friedman writes that "Bush was to provide strategic battlefield
advice to Saddam through intermediaries who were heads of
state." While touring the Middle East, supposedly to promote
peace talks, Bush discussed with the Egyptian president how
Iraq could most effectively bomb Iranian troops. This information
was to be relayed to the Iraqis The Reagan/Bush administrations
provided Saddam with satellite photos of Iranian troop movements
and later helped them create their own system for downloading
this information themselves.
Friedman's book outlines how the Reagan/Bush administrations
used criminal and corrupt banks such as the Atlanta Branch
of the Banca Nazionale de Lavoro (BNL) to use American taxpayer
dollars to assist Saddam and to export U.S. technology for
"the Iraqi dictator's most cherished and lethal weapons projects."
Money going for programs to arm Saddam were kept off the books
and hidden from auditors.
According to Friedman, the Reagan administration sought to
keep a low profile and avoid attention by using obscure U.S.
government loan guarantee programs set up by the Department
of Agriculture. These programs which were set up to help American
farmers sell their produce overseas guaranteed the farmers
would be repaid if the foreign buyer defaulted. One of these
programs, the Commodity Credit Corporation was used extensively
by the republican administrations to divert money to Saddam.
These programs, of course, were financed by American taxpayers.
By 1984, these U.S loans amounted to around $650 million.
The Reagan/Bush administrations were able to do this through
fronts, cutouts and sham corporations, allowing for plausible
denial. Deals were made to use Brazil as a transshipment point
for these weapons. Jordan was used as an intermediary and
a convenient false end-user destination. Saudi Arabia transferred
hundreds of bombs to Iraq to use against Iran. Other countries
were enlisted to arm Hussein.
The U.S. Government sent sophisticated technology directly
to the Salah al-Din military factory which, among other things,
built radar that was used to shoot at U.S. airplanes during
the Gulf War. The land mines that we helped Saddam procure
are still a threat to our forces if we invade.
The United States helped a factory in Chile to develop cluster
bombs for use by the Iraqi air force, never mind that the
U.S. had an arms embargo against Pinochet's government. High
ranking American intelligence agents provided them with the
blue prints and necessary materials. This factory sold hundreds
of millions of dollars worth of these weapons to Hussein.
The American company International Signal and Control (ISC)
manufactured proximity fuses for artillery shells which were
sent to South Africa and then routed to Iraq with the knowledge
of U.S. intelligence.
Companies like American Steel received multi-million dollar
requests from the Iraqis for weapons including radar, tanks
and missiles, all in violation of the 1976 Arms Export Control
Act which required State Department approval.
CIA contractors brokered deals for billions of dollars worth
of weapons for Iraq. One such asset, Sarkis Soghanglian claimed
the administration was aware of his sale of 45 Bell helicopters
Dow Chemical wanted to ship pesticides that acted like nerve
gas on humans. Sidewinder components were transshipped through
Italy to Iraq.
The gassing of the Kurds in 1984 by Iraq pilots, presumably
flying these helicopters did not deter the administration
which turned a blind eye towards Saddam's excesses. The administration
then sold Iraq $220 million worth of trucks. They continued
to provide backing for Saddam even after they knew he was
developing a nuclear capability. Iraqi scientists were even
brought over to the U.S. to attend symposiums on nuclear programs
sponsored by Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. Warnings by
government employees about this dangerous program went unheeded.
Whistle blowers were fired.
These are only a few of the examples which Friedman describes
in his book. Other American allies also became involved in
this feeding frenzy. The French sold Saddam around three billion
dollars worth of equipment that could be used for creating
a nuclear bomb as well as conventional weapons such as missiles
The English which had an official policy of neutrality sent
missile components to Iraq at the same time that they were
providing Iran with artillery shells. According to Friedman,
this was done with the understanding of Margaret Thatcher
who thought that England should exploit Iraq as a lucrative
market for their lethal aid. They also provided the infamous
Dr. Gerald Bull with components to build his super cannon
for Saddam. Bull was later assassinated, probably by the Mossad.
Reagan also sought the help of the Italians in arming Iraq.
They obliged him by selling Saddam weapons and the components
for his nuclear program at Osirak. They built labs for the
Iraqi atomic commission and trained his scientists and technicians
so that they could extract plutonium . The Italians signed
a $2.65 billion dollar contract with the Iraqis to build their
navy. In 1984, Italy sold $165 million worth of helicopters
Many of the Italian arms deals were done with the assistance
of the BNL bank. They financed a deal for $225 million worth
of land mines manufactured by a company partially owned by
Fiat. These were a still a hazard for American troops during
the ensuing Gulf War. The Fiat subsidiary also sold missile
components to Iraq.
Another irony is that this policy of assisting the Iraqi
dictator in acquiring the technology for WMD, Saddam was emboldened
to invade Kuwait. Given hundreds of millions of dollars in
weapons and dual-use technology as well as battle strategy
plans, he thought that he had the green light from the Bush
administration. Our ambassador to Iraq, April Glasspie, made
it clear that any dispute among Arabs was of no concern to
the the United States.
Like Manuel Noriega who had once been of use to George Bush,
Saddam had out lived his usefulness. His declarations that
he now possessed weapons of mass destruction and his bellicose
posturing could no longer be ignored. Saddam was demonized.
Public relations firms were brought in to sell the war to
the American people. The Gulf war ensued. The story of how
Reagan and Bush had armed Iraq was hidden and covered up.
Low ranking employees of the BNL Atlanta branch were scapegoated.
The architects of the scheme got off free.
At the time, this campaign was proclaimed a great military
victory with few casualties among the coalition forces, never
mind the estimated one hundred thousand Iraqis who died, including
many civilians. In retrospect, the victory appears to be a
Ultimately, this secret policy of the Reagan/Bush administrations,
like the Iran-Contragate scandal, resulted in "blowback",
the unintended consequences of their illegal and unconstitutional
actions. American weapons that we provided to Iraq were used
against our own troops in the Gulf War. The chemical and biological
weapons that we helped Saddam create may be one of the causes
of the Gulf War Syndrome which affects perhaps 200,000 veterans
and has killed over seven thousand. American troops will be
once again exposed to the 300 tons of depleted uranium shrapnel
which appears to be causing high rates of cancers in Iraq.
The UN weapons inspectors who will be searching for the Weapons
of Mass Destruction that we helped Hussein create will also
George W. Bush says that our enemies hate us for our freedoms
and our democracy. But the secret policies of the Reagan/Bush
scandals and their cover-ups served to erode that democracy.
Now, as the United States is preparing to go to war, this
administration is using the fear of our citizens as an excuse
to rob us of our rights. George W. Bush and his administration
are stealing our democracy from us. This is something that
neither Bin Laden nor Saddam could do and that may be the
greatest irony of all.